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kutuzov_01 про Абсолют: Идеальная Клятва (Фэнтези)

Хочу разочаровать читателей, здесь нет никакого бояръ аниме, нет здесь и попаданцев (все местные). Книга слишком "утяжелина" различными описаниями, по этому приходиться читать продираясь через текст. Кому нравятся манга в таком стиле, добро пожаловать...

Рейтинг: 0 ( 0 за, 0 против).
Льер Дитрим про Дроздов: Реваншист (Альтернативная история)

Книга оставила самые приятные впечатления. Если и были рояли, то играли они гармонично, и вступали вовремя. Засиделся почти до утра, уложившись в 6 часов, чего со мной уже давненько не случалось)

Рейтинг: +3 ( 3 за, 0 против).
IT3 про Сабаев: Подкидной в далёкой галактике. Дилогия (Боевая фантастика)

автор заметно прогрессирует по сравнению с "колосом".сюжет повествование можно выразить фразой:
"когда татарин родился,еврей заплакал."правда к эве имеет отношение весьма косвенное,но читать интересно.

Рейтинг: +1 ( 2 за, 1 против).
ивановамфрия про Стивенс: Реставратор (Ужасы)

Хороший мистический детектив, приправленный намёком на романтические отношения. Читается легко (наверное, в большей степени заслуга переводчиков). Сюжет динамичен и не утомляет. Рекомендую для отдыха.

Рейтинг: +2 ( 2 за, 0 против).
Легенда про Каргополов: Путь без иллюзий: Том II. Теория и практика медитации (Философия)

Бесплодное мудрствование - это, пожалуй, про самого автора точно сказано. Было бы смешно читать это напыщенное чтиво для доверчивых неофитов, если бы не так грустно оттого, что кто-то может и повестись на все это. Берегитесь, друзья, подобных воинствующих профанов. Такие профессиональные компиляторы вносят свои "поправки" в материалы настоящих мастеров своего дела, а потом присваивают себе лавры. Нужно учитывать, что эти знания уже отличаются от оригинала в силу недалекого понимания любого такого профана, походя и невзначай кидающего по отношению к традиционным практикам фразы типа "я лично считаю это не важным". К тому же, большинство разобранных в книге практик вообще можно делать только под руководством настоящего учителя и уж точно не по этой книге из-за обилия ошибок в ней.

Рейтинг: +1 ( 1 за, 0 против).
андрей 50 про Земляной: Отработанный материал (Боевая фантастика)

По моему какая то ерунда.Планета на которой живёт горстка людей,зарабатывают на жизнь разведением пушного зверя,которого разводят и выпускают на волю.А потом на него охотятся.И есть некая корпорация,которая втихую занимается химическим оружием.Появляется сосланный умирать на этой планете,спецназовец.Которому в пещере один гениальный врач делает пересадку лёгких от одного плохого человека.И донор и сам Гг остаются в живых.А потом Гг находит хим.лабораторию разоблачает корпорацию.Я просто не могу понять как на планете,где нет техники,кроме снегоходов (там почти всегда зима)и живёт горстка людей,можно найти то что очень хорошо спрятано.У нас библиотеку Ивана Грозного сколько ищут и ни хрена,а он за полгода на дне океана нашел.Мне не понравилось,продолжение читать не буду,только время тратить.

Рейтинг: +2 ( 2 за, 0 против).
kiyanyn про Дроздов: Реваншист. Часть вторая (Попаданцы)

Просто скомканный конец.

Спойлер: СССР не спасти, КПСС - гадость...

Не пошла.

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Invasion: New York (fb2)

- Invasion: New York (а.с. invasion america-4) 907K (скачать fb2) - Vaughn Heppner

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INVASION: NEW YORK by Vaughn Heppner

Prologue

HALIFAX, NEW BRUNSWICK

John Red Cloud was a short, Algonquin warrior of undeterminable age. He sipped beer from a tall glass, having nursed it for over an hour. It was well past 3 AM and he sat in a rundown tavern catering to dock workers and seamen. He had the leathery features of a seasoned warrior and a grudge to settle with the leaders of the German Dominion. Because of that, he waited here to murder a man.

Red Cloud tightened his grip around the beer glass. He had believed a lie. He had fought for an illusion, and that angered him in a deep and solemn way.

He took a slow sip, as if trying to dampen his inner rage. Because of GD duplicity, he had declared war against them. He had not done so verbally, but in his heart. He had begun that war in the depth of winter by murdering the Dominion ambassador to Quebec.

The GD secret service hunted for him now, as he hunted his enemies. This was an old game for Red Cloud, and he was a survivor of a long and bitter battle that had started against the Canadian government many years ago. He knew the odds: he was one warrior against an empire. Because of that, he had chosen a time-honored technique and target. He would assassinate the leader of the GD, Chancellor Kleist.

Unfortunately, he had a problem. To kill Kleist, he had to leave North America, cross the Atlantic Ocean and land in Europe. Instead of hiding in the northern wilds, he would carry the war to the enemy. The trick was getting across the great salt sea.

John had not called upon his people for aid, even though they had voted him the Algonquin representative to the Germans. He’d made his decision alone and he would work alone to exact revenge upon those who thought to mock his people.

Tonight, he wore a red flannel shirt, jeans and boots. His jacket was draped over his chair as he sat hunched in the shadows, cradling his glass.

Unlike some of his fellow Algonquians, Red Cloud could hold his liquor, but he wasn’t taking any chances tonight. He had ordered the one beer, nursing it, but he wouldn’t drink any more. He dared not get drunk tonight—oh no. After weeks of searching for the right man, he had finally found his ticket to Europe.

The grungy Halifax bar was a dive catering to dockworkers and seamen who had made the trip across the Atlantic. Such journeys had increased since Quebec seceded from Canada and joined the GD. The Europeans poured military supplies and hardware into Quebec and into New Brunswick, which had become a part of Quebec a few weeks ago.

It was a long story, but the GD prepared for war against America. That had included grabbing the rump of Eastern Canada: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

A long story indeed as John hunted amid mayhem, killing twice in order to reach Halifax. He had a problem, or two problems intertwined together. The GD secret service hunted him and he lacked the identification papers to pass the endless roadblocks or to board a plane or boat for Europe. Because of the threat of North American war, the GD police did not like Quebecers to travel from region to region in their own country.

John’s scarred hands released the beer glass. His black eyes seldom smiled, and he wore a toque: the French word for a knit woolen hat.

John had a simple plan, the best ones always were. He needed identity papers and a cover job. What better papers and cover than as a seaman of the GD? Unfortunately, he did not have access to good forgers. Therefore, he hunted for a GD seaman who looked like him—the same size, similar features, and so on.

From a nearby table, a chair scraped back.

John glanced up. The man who had shoved his chair had dark features and leathery skin. He also had a brush cut. Therefore, when the time came, John would shave his head. The man wore a green jacket and had several rings on his fingers. He had two black fingernails, and he was missing an upper left tooth.

At the right time, John would pull out one of his teeth. He had to reach Europe, France in particular. He could speak French and from a lifetime of living in Quebec, he knew French customs. Perhaps as important, he had the name of a French secret service agent who hated the present GD regime. This agent was the key to John’s plan.

The seaman rose unsteady to his feet. He put his left hand on the table. Half the middle finger was missing. The man had been drinking all night, and playing darts from time to time. The man shouted his good-byes. Then he staggered for the door.

With a sigh, Red Cloud stood. He did not want to kill the man. It did not make him feel good knowing that soon he would take the man’s life. It made him sad, just as it would have made one of his ancestors sad having to kill a deer for the family. His ancestor would have asked the gods’ favor to help him make the kill, and his ancestor would later ask the deer’s spirit to forgive him, as his family needed the meat.

John did not believe in the old gods. After his family died years ago in the Quebec civil war, he didn’t believe in much. Thus, he would not ask the man’s forgiveness as he stole the life. Still, it grieved him to snuff out an innocent life. It was yet another thing the forked-tongued GD leaders would have to answer for.

As John stepped outside, rain struck his face, making him blink. He wondered if GD soldiers would feel sad killing any resisting Algonquians. He did not think so. The white man killed without remorse. The Algonquin was superior, therefore, because at least he regretted the need for an evil deed.

A streetlight cast ill-defined light as rain hissed past the post. A quarter-block ahead of John, the seaman stumbled, laughing to himself, perhaps at a joke told earlier tonight. That was good, yes, very good. At least, the seaman would die happy.

John hurried across the slippery paving. He had a knack for moving fast without seeming to. With a barely perceptible turning of his head, he glanced right and left. Except for the target, there was no one out this late in the dingy part of Halifax. As John broke into a jog, he drew a bone-handled hunting knife from inside his jacket.

“You!” he said. “Wait a minute, eh?”

The seaman, who was the same height as John, stopped and turned around. In the dimness of the street lamp, the man had a questioning smile on his lips. It did not appear that he saw the knife. Maybe at the last second he sensed something out of place. The smile slipped, but it was far too late for the seaman. The razor-sharp blade sliced across his throat, and John Red Cloud nimbly stepped aside.

Blood gushed from the cut, and because the steel had sliced the vocal cords, the dying man couldn’t cry out. Instead, he staggered backward, hit his shoulders against the nearby building and tumbled sideways. He kicked his booted feet a time or two, and then he shuddered, lying still.

He must have been very drunk.

Blood pooled under the body—lots and lots of blood. John carefully stepped upon the slick paving. From experience, he knew the blood could act like oil and make for treacherous footing. Kneeling on the man’s chest, he searched the pockets and found his ID. He extracted the plastic and what little money the man carried. Then John pressed his teeth together because he didn’t like the next part.

With the knife-tip, he made a question mark on the man’s cheek, including digging out the dot on the bottom. The mark had no significance of any kind. The question mark was simply to give the police something to think about, a thing that would hopefully throw them on a rabbit trail leading nowhere except away from John.

Wiping the blade on the dead man’s coat, sliding it back into the hidden sheath, John rose and walked away. He would not use the ID right away, but in a week or two, after the man’s ship had left without him. He would board a different one later. And he would—with the Spirits’ guidance—reach the Old World, Europe. Then he would begin to hunt Chancellor Kleist of the German Dominion and kill him like the dog he was.

-1- Strategic Interlude I

From Tank Wars, by B.K. Laumer III:

The PAA and the GD in North America:

In 2040, the Pan-Asian Alliance contained 44 percent of the world’s population, while the German Dominion held 6 percent. The Americans and Canadians, incidentally, had a mere 5 percent.

The disparity of numbers went a long way to explaining the differences in armaments and strategies between the two Aggressor power blocs. It also explained the ability of the PAA to absorb staggering losses while continuing to possess the world’s strongest military.

China in particular had a surplus of young men willing to take up arms. Combined with Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese troops and with the South America Federation alliance, the PAA could easily win any war of attrition.

For the GD leadership it was different. Either they needed to win swiftly and decisively in North America or they needed a way to moderate losses.

Early in its buildup in the 2030s, the German Dominion made a key decision. They would supplement their flesh and blood forces with a mass influx of drones, hunter-killers and robotic troops. They used a two-pronged approach in this.

The first method was the more basic: remote controllers guiding robotic vehicles. These controllers came in two types. The first were in stationary posts behind the front lines and normally controlled air force drones and UAVs. The second type was in mobile vehicles organic to the various panzer and mechanized battalions and brigades. The battlefield controller piloted such famous drones as the Mark VII “Wolf” and the Mark IX “Ritter.”

The second method proved the more radical—artificial intelligence-run weapons systems. Like the blitzkrieg tactics of 1939 and 1940, the AI Kaiser hunter-killer came as a shock to its opponents.

By the time of the North American war, fully one third of the GD military was composed of what many called soulless machinery. The preponderance of robotic vehicles proved even greater in the Great Lakes and East Coast battles of 2040. There, GD formations were one half to three fourths automated. Some of the engagements were even fought with fully robotic battalions.

Many American personnel nicknamed these forces as “Terminator” battalions. The moniker originated from a 20th Century movie franchise depicting a future of machine enemies attempting to annihilate humanity. The abundance of drones and particularly the AI-driven hunter-killers or HKs allowed the GD to make “suicidal” attacks that even Chinese generals would have been loath to attempt. Used with judicious precision, this proved a critical and often telling advantage.

One of the interesting historical side notes concerned the size of GD robotic war-vehicles. The majority of stories depicting future AI weapons systems invariably showed them as oversized, such as the Chinese tri-turreted tank, the American Behemoth or something even larger. In contrast to reality, the Kaisers were little bigger than the GD main battle tank, the Leopard IV. However, because the Kaiser lacked a human crew, they could pack greater capability into the same size tank. The European MBT was akin to the American Jefferson in quality and deadliness—the Kaiser was something else entirely. Just like the word czar or tsar, the word kaiser was a derivative of the Roman title Caesar, which went back to Julius Caesar and his amazing exploits. Indeed, the AI Kaiser was a conquering tank of breathtaking abilities and scope, and a stunning tribute to German engineering and military theory.


From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040
Strategic Overview

Despite staggering losses in 2039, the Pan-Asian Alliance and the South American Federation implemented a “total” effort at rebuilding and resupplying the main invasion arm. This included an influx of new troops. The most trusted 31 Mexican Army divisions (465,000) took up garrison duty in Southern California. That allowed the Chinese units there to move east.

Because of the “total” effort, PAA and SAF numbers soon approached the six million mark behind the New Mexico-Oklahoma-Arkansas Line. It was a million less than the original seven, but still an impressive display of political resolve. However, what the Aggressors had in numbers they lacked in the original military hardware of 2039. The tri-turreted tanks, hovercraft, mobile canopy anti-ballistic missile vehicles, UAVs, jetpack commandos and other weapon systems were not available in the same profusion as the previous year.

The difference was telling, meaning the PAA and SAF possessed a considerably weaker offensive punch. Yet the sheer volume of troops combined with a cautious approach gave the Aggressors staying power. It allowed them to entrench while new weapon systems made the long journey from mainland Asian factories, across the Pacific, through Northern Mexico and to the waiting soldiers as they rearmed.

On the other side, the militarization and arming of the American people had begun in earnest. The successful defense of Denver and the accompanying counterattack increased the popularity of the Homeland Security Department’s Militia battalions, and their ranks swelled.

A few far-seeing individuals were troubled by this. They believed America had come to possess two competing militaries such as Greater Iran had with their Revolutionary Guard and the Regular Army. Despite these qualms, Homeland Security continued to grow in scope and power.

With the end of winter came a vast reshuffling of American and Canadian forces. At the beginning of hostilities in mid-spring, those movements were still in progress. The basic outline was as follows: four hundred thousand soldiers stood guard in Southern California and two hundred thousand patrolled the deserts of Arizona. Two hundred and fifty thousand second-rate Militiamen were spread along the Pacific Coast, with another two hundred thousand in Alaska. Five million Army troops, Marines and Militiamen manned the New Mexico-Oklahoma-Arkansas-Mississippi River Line. Another seven hundred thousand guarded the Gulf and East Coasts.

The Canadians moved the bulk of their army—six hundred thousand soldiers in 37 divisions—against the Ontario-Quebec border, while the Americans transferred approximately one million soldiers into the New England-New York-New Jersey area. A paltry two hundred thousand soldiers remained in U.S. strategic reserve, while a million and a half more newly trained Army troops, Marines and top-grade Militiamen would enter service sometime in the summer.

German Dominion numbers in Quebec appeared small when compared to American and especially Chinese forces. One million, two hundred thousand GD soldiers occupied the newest North American nation. A bare one hundred and fifty thousand Quebecers joined its newly minted military. But those numbers were deceptive in terms of combat ability. In terms of war vehicles and firepower—drones, HKs and robotic troops—the Germans possessed double their flesh and blood numbers.

Another two hundred thousand GD amphibious forces waited in Cuba, ready to invade the East Coast. They likewise had double the combat power, likening them to four hundred thousand soldiers. In combat values then, the GD had the equivalent of 2,950,000 troops to engage an initial 1,600,000 American-Canadian defenders. The true German edge was in terms of quality—planes, drones, tanks, hovercraft, missiles, lasers, space forces, etc. In that sense, the Germans had a preponderant advantage. Yet the Americans possessed a particularly key asset—their veteran soldiers.

Plans

German Plans: The GD General Staff divided the available men and “terminators” into 123 divisions, in four army groups. Army Group A under General Holk contained three armies and Army Group B under General Zeller had three armies. They held the bulk of the North American GD force and had the farthest to fight and travel.

Holk’s task was to smash through the Canadians along the Quebec-Ontario border, driving south toward Detroit in a classic blitzkrieg run. Behind would follow Zeller, mopping up bypassed enemy positions. The initial prize was Southern Ontario between Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Before reaching the final goal of Detroit, the GD would reveal the campaign’s true objectives. Turning sharply left—from the German perspective—waterborne hovercraft, tanks and infantry would launch across Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in an amphibious-blitzkrieg surprise. Once reaching the other side, they would begin the invasion of New York and Northern Pennsylvania, heading in the direction of the Atlantic Coast.

The timing of the second hook would be critical. Once the lead elements of Army Group A and B reached the western Appalachian foothills, Operation Poseidon would commence. The amphibious force in Cuba—General Kaltenbrunner’s Army Group D of two armies—was to land along the New Jersey shores. Their task was to drive northwest toward Niagara Falls-Buffalo. The two-pronged pincer move would meet in mid-state New York and Northern Pennsylvania, trapping the bulk of the American force holding New England, New York and New Jersey.

To the north of the New England states was Army Group C of Marshal Fromm, holding Quebec and occupied New Brunswick. The area south of the Saint Lawrence River contained three smaller GD siege armies. Their task was to protect the Saint Lawrence River lifeline.

The proposed destruction of large American and Canadian forces would bring four critical results. It would 1) sustainably weaken the North American allies 2) broaden GD holdings behind defensible terrain 3) allow Kleist to begin his political experimentation in North America and 4) provide a suitable springboard for the 2041 offensives.

American plans. With the bulk of Army Canada stationed along the Quebec-Ontario border, the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff continued to argue for an invasion of Quebec. Combined with New England forces and the coming summer reinforcements, they would have more flesh and blood numbers than the GD. The Canadians insisted President Sims honor his word and commence Operation Liberty against Quebec. The debate continued to rage until the German invasion forced the Allied hand.

Chinese plans. Exhausted by last year’s offensives, the Chinese planned to eradicate all American partisans in occupied territories. Otherwise, they would hold in place. The Navy planned intensified anti-submarine warfare in the Pacific. Once the routes were secured, full rearmament of the Invasion Army could continue with accelerated speed.


2040, April 4-11. Occupation Maritime. GD shock troops disgorged from freighters in Canadian Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. In a relatively bloodless coup, airmobile brigades and a swift tank column from Quebec completed the occupation of these four Maritime Provinces. (Quebec already physically split them from the rest of Canada.) Heightened tensions poisoned edgy GD-American relations.


2040, May 26-June 10. The Ontario Assault. Following predawn bombardments of all major Ontario and nearby American airfields, GD air-superiority fighters quickly gained local dominance. Army Group A simultaneously gained operational surprise against the Canadians and northern New York forces. In true blitzkrieg fashion, German armor boldly raced south and west, cutting supply to large portions of the Canadian Army along the Quebec-Ontario border. The AI Kaiser hunter-killers and Leopard IV tanks proved devastating, as the Canadians had nothing to match them. Even so, the Canadians fought valiantly, reminding some GD generals of Polish courage and resistance in 1939. Army Group B followed in close coordination, engaging in hard-fought contests. On June 4, the Ottawa Pocket finally collapsed, netting the Germans 40,000 starving Canadians along with 200 tanks and 150 artillery pieces. GD hovertanks proved particularly effective along the Lake Ontario shores. On June 10, the Kingston Pocket surrendered and 70,000 Canadian and Americans troops marched into captivity.

The main Canadian Army was now split in two, with roughly 200,000 soldiers of Army Group West moving north to Sudbury and Manitoba. Roughly, another 200,000 Canadians of Army Group South retreated toward Toronto as the Germans followed. That left approximately 200,000 Canadians dead on the field of battle or marching into GD captivity.


2040, June 6-19. Drive on Toronto. The entire American strategic reserve (200,000) sped to Southern Ontario, linking with Canadian Army Group South. Ultimately, U.S. High Command wished to protect the new Behemoth Manufacturing Plant in Detroit. But they also concentrated on holding the Golden Horseshoe region of Southern Ontario: the urban concentration—one of the heaviest in North America—wrapped around the western edge of Lake Ontario from Oshawa-Toronto-Hamilton to Niagara Falls.

GD Army Group A (Holk) found increasing resistance as the Canadian formations rallied around the American veterans. In hard-fought, bloody battles, with “suicidal” Kaisers and Sigrid drones driving up the gut, Army Group A pushed into Markham. Before attempting to capture the bulk of the Golden Horseshoe, Holk wished to consolidate his weary forces and resupply.

Commanding General Mansfeld ordered Holk into an immediate full-scale attack. Then, in one of the most brilliant and bold maneuvers of the war, Mansfeld initiated the first GD mass airdrop of tanks, a corps level event. It caught the Allies by surprise and trapped substantial forces in Toronto, splitting Southern Ontario Allied Command. GD “terminator” battalions began the harrowing Toronto Ordeal.

-2- Desperation

TORONTO, ONTARIO

Dark clouds raced overhead as Master Sergeant Paul Kavanagh stood up. His left knee flared with pain for a moment until it popped. He hardly noticed. His senses had overloaded and he began to hyperventilate.

The thunderous booms of GD artillery faded away in his mind. The flashes on the horizon…Paul frowned. In his jumbled thinking, it seemed like lightning. Maybe it was going to rain soon, eh. The crashing shells hammering their area—was the shaking under his boots an earthquake? He turned his head and witnessed a chunk of masonry sloughing off a tall office building. The mass came away in seeming slow motion much like an iceberg would from a glacier in the Arctic Ocean. The falling—why was it so quiet now? Was there something wrong with him? In seconds, silent, billowing dust rolled upward from the city street where the cement hit.

Why can’t I hear anything?

Paul blinked incessantly and he swayed back and forth. Dully, he realized that Romo shouted in his ear. His Mexican-Apache friend gripped his right shoulder, pulling and pushing, which caused the motion. Paul moved his mouth but was mildly surprised that he couldn’t hear his own words. Something was wrong with him. He turned to Romo. Worry showed in his friend’s eyes.

Bending forward, trying to massage his forehead, Paul discovered he wore a helmet. It came to him then: where he was, who he was and why.

Sounds rushed upon him. GD artillery boomed thunderously. Shells screamed and slammed near. Explosions rocked Paul and bits of masonry pelted his body armor like killer hail.

“Amigo!” Romo shouted. “Get down!”

Something that might have been panic gobbled in Paul’s throat. He tried to swallow and found it impossible to do. He hyperventilated—something he hadn’t done since his first year in combat. Man, he needed to get a grip, to think. He threw himself onto the ground. It was barely in time. Chunks of masonry and bent iron girders flashed overhead. They would have decapitated him if he hadn’t ducked.

Bellows and screams told Paul some of the Canadian soldiers with them hadn’t been as quick or as lucky. He swiveled his rusty neck, seeing their remains. Bright red blood jetted from torn limbs or shattered torsos, drenching their thrashing, humping forms. One young Canadian held his stomach with bloody hands, vainly trying to keep his guts in.

The sights…Paul ground his molars together in anguish. It was true he’d seen such mayhem before. He’d been through North Slope, Alaska, through Hawaii, California, Texas, Colorado—he’d even been to Quebec long ago to fight French separatists. He had fought and killed many times, but he’d never faced science fiction foes like this. For the past week now—

Paul squeezed his grimy eyelids shut and lay his chest down against clenched fists. He wore body armor. It had dents, rents, dried gore and did little to warm him against the unseasonably chilly weather. The world was freezing to death, in the grip of a new glacial age. Farmlands dwindled everywhere, which was why soldiers from the Old World came to America: to steal food in order to feed their hungry masses back home. Paul didn’t need anything to eat at the moment. Instead, his throat was parched and his tongue felt bloated due to thirst.

“Do you hear that?” Romo shouted in his ear.

Paul opened his eyes, peering at his best friend and fellow LRSU member. Romo lay beside him amid rubble. The man was shorter than Paul and he was darker-skinned, with sharp features, a shaved scalp under his helmet and the eyes of a stone-cold killer. Even up here in Canada, the former hit man for Colonel Valdez of the Mexico Home Army wore an earring with an eagle feather dangling from it. They were an LRSU team: Long Range Surveillance Unit. They belonged to SOCOM, which ran American commandos: SEALs, Delta Force, Recon Marines and many others.

They weren’t doing any long-range reconnaissance today and they hadn’t done any yesterday or the day before that, either. They were trapped in the Toronto Pocket with everyone else.

“Can you hear it?” Romo shouted.

Something in Romo’s voice helped: a lifeline to sanity, to combat normality. Paul cocked his head, and he listened past the booms, the crashes, the screams, the hammering of 12.7mm machine guns and roaring tank cannons. He listened, and he heard the clank of an approaching GD hunter-killer. It was close—practically upon them.

Adrenaline fear pumped through Kavanagh. He shoved off the hard surface and found himself shouting at the top of his lungs. It reminded him of the first time he’d cliff-dived off a forty-foot rock at Knight’s Ferry in northern California as a kid. As he moved fast in a crouch toward an old TOW missile, he recalled that distant memory. It had happened over thirty years ago. He was forty-two now, a tallish Recon Marine with wide shoulders and slim hips.

He had stood way up there on a rock, looking down at the cold water far below. He’d sucked in his gut that day and puffed out his chest, and he had shouted like a madman and leapt off the rock as if he were Superman about to take flight. It had been a rush diving down, with his arms held out and his fingers clenched into fists. He remembered the water slamming his neck, and then he curled in the river.

The fear back then had focused his thoughts. The fear today did the same thing, even though his fear here in Toronto had much greater consequences backing it.

With Romo’s help, Paul heaved the big TOW tube into position onto a hunk of rubble. Why did the Canadians have such ancient battleware like this anyway? It had been old when he’d used it in Alaska back in 2032. He could have used a Javelin missile about now.

With a mental shrug, Paul readied the TOW and swiveled it. The GD Kaiser HK they’d both heard smashed through a corner of an office building. Bricks went flying, dust billowed and the metal monstrosity churned toward them. The thing was squat and shaped like an old WWII Sherman tank. The M4 had been much taller at nine feet. This AI-run panzer was barely seven feet tall but weighed sixty-eight tons compared to the Sherman’s thirty. In WWII, the American workhorse had boasted a crew of five. The Kaiser had none, just its computer intelligence. The Kaiser also bristled with weaponry, including a short-barreled 175mm cannon. It had 25mm autocannons, antipersonnel heavy machine guns, beehive flechette launchers and computer-speeded reflexes.

Paul estimated the distance at eighty meters. As he sighted the tank, he stopped breathing or he couldn’t. Before he pulled the trigger, half a platoon of ragged Canadians boiled up from hiding: from the ground, the nearest building and from behind rubble. They had plenty of small arms, blazing M16s, chugging grenade launchers and an old BAR. Two men clicked Javelin missile launchers. Another team had a recoilless rifle. The taller soldier slapped his kneeling partner on the back shoulder. Others used ancient RPGs, firing shaped-charge grenades from their shoulders. There were puffs of smoke, fiery exhausts and short flight paths. With that much firepower and short distance, and given the assault from the varying positions, it should have worked.

Unfortunately for them, the AI Kaiser HK was something new on the battlefield. Beehive flechette launchers belched tiny metal hooks in the tens of thousands. Every machine gun on the tank fired, each using a dedicated computer targeting “brain” to guide the weapon at swiftly prioritized enemy soldiers. The 25mm autocannons jerked minutely, and proximity-timed shells intercepted the launched Javelin missiles and—

Paul’s reflex caused him to pull his index finger. The TOW tube shook, launched the missile and it ignited several feet away from him. Both Paul and Romo ducked behind the masonry wall. Neither saw the perfectly aimed 25mm shell blow the TOW missile into smithereens. Both felt the blast and heard hot shrapnel crack overhead and gouge against their protective cover.

Renewed fear surged through Paul as if traveling through his blood. Every particle of his body felt it, and he reacted accordingly. He squeezed past Romo, pushing bits of gravel with his chest as he peered around a rat-high corner at the spectacle.

The Kaiser murdered the half-platoon of desperate Canadians. The tank’s heavy armor protected it from bullets and ordinary exploding grenades. The flechettes stopped the RPGs and shredded any exposed Canadian flesh. The autocannons annihilated everything else and the tank’s machine guns tore through body armor. Blood misted. Men made horrible sounds and those who survived the first ten seconds of mayhem turned and ran away. All of the running soldiers fell. The Kaiser shot most of those in the back, killing them. Two lucky soldiers tripped and thus saved their lives…for the several seconds it took the AI to assess and redirect its machine guns.

Paul caught all this in his brief look. Afterward, he pulled back like a turtle, faced Romo, giving his friend a searching stare.

Something unspoken passed between the two LRSU commandos. Paul saw unshaken resolve in Romo’s eyes. He wasn’t sure what his friend saw in his. Paul still felt debilitating fear, the kind that could empty a man’s bowels. He dreaded the Kaiser shredding him to death like that. He found it nauseating how a machine could slaughter men like this. The world he knew turned upside down and around, and it felt as if he was going to vomit and begin shaking uncontrollably and maybe start howling like a lost soul.

Then his Marine training took hold, and there was a spark deep in Paul that refused to shame himself in front of his friend. He also knew that Cheri, his wife, had begged him to make an oath before God to come home alive to her and Mikey. He’d sworn the oath, and he asked God every day to help him keep the vow so he could hold his wife again and help his boy grow up in a free America. There was something else, too: a stubborn sod in him that gave the finger to these German bastards and planned to stuff their arrogance down their throats and make them choke to death on it.

The manly part of him battled the fear in a nearly unconscious war of seconds. The terror of that tank, of the clanking treads, nearing, hammering machine guns and swiveling main turret, attempted to overwhelm him and turn him into a quivering mass.

Paul Kavanagh took a deep breath. The air tasted of gasoline, of burnt cinderblock, blood, burning human flesh that smelled like cooked pork, and gunpowder, waves of gunpowder stench. He drank down that air so it reached the deepest portions of his lungs and expanded his chest. Then he held it, held it, held it and exhaled in a long, slow process.

Why it helped, he didn’t know. Many years ago, a preacher had spoken about it concerning a man under torture. The martyr had said that when the fear bubbled and he debated denying his faith to save himself from further pain, then he would take a long deep breath. Doing that had settled his fear and let him endure another hour. Paul had never forgotten the story, and he realized now it was true.

After his long breath, he felt in charge of himself again. “Let’s get out of here,” he said to Romo. He didn’t speak in panic, but in a cold voice that he’d used many times this past year.

“Si!” Romo shouted.

As the Kaiser clattered toward them, Paul crawled away. Romo crawled. They fled the dead zone, slithering over dust, twisted girders, blood, chunks of flesh, concrete and spent casings.

A cold drop of rain plunked onto Paul’s nose. Then he crawled through a large hole in a wall, the structure once a former Bank of Canada. He climbed to his feet, and while clutching his weapon, he sprinted through the eerie shadows. Following him, Romo crunched over wooden debris.

From where they’d been, a fantastic roar sounded and the scream of a 175mm shell smashed through the bank’s wall and exited another. Dust and pebble-sized chunks rained on their helmets and body armor.

“Now the tank’s shooting blind!” Romo shouted.

“Quiet,” Paul hissed. “For all we know, the thing can trail us by voice.” He wondered if it used infrared tracking and could follow their warm footsteps.

Paul ducked into another room. They needed to get back to HQ. A Marine general had sent Romo and him out to scout their neighboring Canadian battalion. Well, that battalion was gone or dead now. The perimeter had closed tighter again and the general needed to know that, if he didn’t already.

Another war had started against America, and this one might not last long enough for Paul to learn its outcome. What was with these invading vultures anyway? Had the entire world ganged up on the US?

Paul squinted with anger. Someday, and the sooner the better, America would pay back these sons of bitches. First, though, his country was going to have to survive the GD miracle weapons from the future. Yeah, first he was going to have to survive Toronto.

WASHINGTON, DC

It was 1:32 PM and far from the roar of war. Anna Chen ate alone at Frobisher, an elegant restaurant specializing in seafood and catering to those in the political establishment.

Prices here had risen sharply since the German Dominion occupation of Quebec this winter. Fewer fishermen dared the open ocean these days. GD submarines prowled the Atlantic, and since the coup this April of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, long-range GD bombers flew endless patrols. Sometimes the bombers came to within twenty miles of the American coast. Anna had read five NNS reports of destroyed fishing boats. She’d also read a secret CIA report. It told of the GD intention to annihilate the American fishing industry.

Are they trying to starve us?

Anna kept her head down as she picked at her salad, spearing a piece of tomato with her fork. She brought it to her mouth and chewed the seemingly tasteless morsel. She was particularly worried about David: that being David Sims, the President of the United Sates.

With delicate fingers, Anna picked up a goblet and sipped white wine. She watched her weight and diligently practiced yoga in the evenings. She was slender and some said beautiful, although she had a hard time admitting it to herself. Her greatest problem—in her opinion—was that she was half-Chinese in a country undergoing its worst crisis because of China. Many people hated her because of her ethnicity, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Alan.

Since the GD invasion several weeks ago, the bigotry directed at her bothered her more than ever. Nobody hated German-Americans because of what the GD had done. But people certainly hated her because of what the Chinese had done. That was a double standard.

With a sigh, Anna shrugged, making her jacket rustle. Double standards were unpleasant facts but they were often the way of the world. It was seldom that anything turned out to be fair. One didn’t become the best analyst in the CIA by wearing blinders, but by seeing reality for what it was. Many years ago, she’d written the tome on Socialist-Nationalist China. It was still one of the best books on the subject. She understood the Chinese and she had been studying the topic overtime lately, especially concerning Chairman Hong’s situation.

Hong’s assassination of his Police Minister several months ago had surprised her. This last week, she had been reading up about Shun Li, China’s new Minister of Police and Hong’s most faithful ally. Because of her latest research, Anna had reason to believe that the terrorist attack on Tunisia’s largest desalination plant five weeks ago had been the work of East Lightning: China’s secret police. The mission had been a complicated piece of skullduggery.

The German Dominion attempted to transform the North African deserts into productive wheat fields. The changing weather patterns there had given the hungry Europeans the incentive to try. These days, North Africa received more rain than ever before, or at least since people had been keeping records. To aid in the scheme, Kleist had demanded larger desalination plants, turning Mediterranean salt water into fresh for the crops. The largest plant stood on the coast of Cape Bon, where Gaiseric of old—a ruthless German barbarian—had once tormented the late Roman Empire. Before that, the cape had protected the ancient city of Carthage, scourge of the Romans. A massive nuclear power plant supplied the giant desalination processor with the energy it needed.

Several radical engineers within the nuclear facility had sabotaged it, creating a Chernobyl-like disaster. That had brought about a forced shutdown and an evacuation of the important desalination plant. That would hurt the hundreds of thousands of acres depending on its water and that would severely cut into the harvest—if there even would be a harvest in that region this year.

The first GD outcries had been against the Muslim Brotherhood, a splinter Sunni group secretly funded by Shia Greater Iran. The radical engineers had published a manifesto online, showing them to belong to the Brotherhood and demanding that the atheist Europeans leave Africa. Later, new evidence had emerged that implicated the CIA as the paymaster.

That was nonsense of course. Anna had begun to dig at the evidence and study each piece, searching for its origin. Finally, she had concluded that the terrorist plot had been the secret work of East Lightning, some of its most devious and delicate. East Lightning had left “clues” to implicate the CIA, to blame-shift.

The reasoning is obvious, Anna thought, as she deposited a piece of avocado onto her tongue. The Chinese wished to punish the Germans for declaring neutrality last year. Hong believed the neutrality had been the final piece that had helped bring about Greater China’s worst military disaster to date. There was another reason, too. Hong wanted to prod the Germans into war against America. Well, the Chairman had certainly gotten his wish in that at least.

Did the Tunisia terrorist attack have anything to do with the GD decision?

In other words, had Chancellor Kleist really believed that America had been responsible for the terrorism? Anna doubted it. Even so, she knew Kleist had used the supposed “truth.” The CIA had learned that there had been a secret GD memo sent to many European heads of state—states such as Bavaria, Gotland, Prussia, Galicia, Tyrol, Lombardy, Gascony and others. Kleist had used the supposed CIA funding for propaganda purposes: to build up hatred against the Americans.

As she sat at her table, Anna was convinced that the terrorist plot had come from one man’s devious mind: Chairman Hong. The monster was capable of anything, even attacking the world’s dwindling food supply in the worst famine in a thousand years.

“Ma’am,” a deep-voiced man said behind her.

Anna looked up in surprise, and she nearly choked on a piece of lettuce.

Agent Demetrius of the U.S. Secret Service stood at her shoulder. He’d been with her at Iceland last year when she had secretly met with Chancellor Kleist. Demetrius was a large black man and wore a black suit and sunglasses. He guarded her outside the White House whenever David didn’t come along. The President had his own security detail. Her times away from David had been more and more often lately. It was one of the reasons she’d begun brooding.

“I’m sorry to startle you, ma’am,” Demetrius said. His features didn’t change as he said it. The man was like ice. Nothing seemed to surprise him.

“No, no,” Anna said. “I…I was thinking. Is something wrong?”

Demetrius minutely shifted his head.

Anna looked around him, and she spied Max Harold, the Director of Homeland Security. Three huge men stood near him. They were Militia bodyguards, and they had a notorious reputation.

Anna sat in a secluded part of Frobisher, in a little alcove higher than the other tables, with a small railing separating her from them. The lights were subdued here, with old sailing pictures hanging on the walls. The director stood by a table filled with plates of half-eaten meals.

Had Max been eating there with his bodyguards? She didn’t see anyone else who could have been eating with him. Anna wondered if he’d noticed her earlier or just now. She hadn’t believed he frequented this place.

Anna knew a pang of unease. Had Max come here to speak with her? She didn’t like the idea.

“Yes?” Anna said to Demetrius.

“The director told me he would like to join you for a brandy,” the agent said.

“I’m not sure that would be a good—”

“Ma’am,” Demetrius said. “He’s going to insist. Now I’m more than willing to keep him from you, but there are three of them and only one of me.”

Anna studied Demetrius, and she noticed he flexed his left hand, as if he was readying himself to fight. Then his thumb began to pop each of the fingers’ joints in turn. “You can’t seriously believe Max’s bodyguards would start a… an incident here.” It would have been too preposterous to say “a fight.” Yet that’s what she’d been thinking.

“Would you like to leave?” Demetrius asked.

“I’m not finished eating,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Demetrius said, and the way he said it troubled her.

There was a reason for her feeling uneasy about Max’s request. David had been acting strangely lately, and the two of them hadn’t gone out to eat as much. It came to her that the last time had been just before the GD invasion of Ontario. Since then, the President had been retreating into himself. She’d tried to bring him out of isolation, but…

Anna swallowed nervously, and she almost reached for the wine glass.

While moving into her alcove, Max Harold cleared his throat. Maybe he thought she was taking too long to decide. “Anna Chen,” he said. “This is a surprise.”

Demetrius shifted his head the tiniest fraction. It was a question for her: did she want to do something about the intrusion?

The idea made her spine tingle. She disliked confrontations, and it would be unwise to insult Max. The man held onto grudges as if they were ancient gold coins and he a curator of artifacts.

“Won’t you sit down, Director?” Anna asked.

“Oh, well, since you’re asking,” Max said. He turned to his bodyguards and jutted his chin at the table of half-eaten food. They pulled out chairs and sat down there, looking like mob hitmen more than the protectors of the second most powerful man in America.

Demetrius retreated, taking up station below the alcove and facing the three bodyguards. They ignored him. With a clatter of plates, they also shoved aside the half-eaten food and told a waitress to bring them menus.

Max, meanwhile, pulled out a chair and sat down at the table with Anna.

She knew him from the many inner circle meetings with the President and she knew him from reputation. He was like an encyclopedia, able to spout facts at will. He displayed little emotion but ironclad logic. Physically unremarkable, Max was in his mid-fifties, with a bald head dotted with liver spots. He wore a rumbled suit today as he always did and had a distracted air like a preoccupied professor.

That’s an illusion, maybe even pretense.

Max was polite, seemed harmless enough in person and had managed to amass great power as the head of Homeland Security. His genius and ability to outwork any three people had been instrumental in creating the vast Militia organization. They had gone a long way to ensuring that America had enough soldiers to fight the massed invaders.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had never approved of the Militia. General Alan had said on many occasions that the Marines were competition enough for the Army. Despite their dog and cat antagonism, Max and General Alan had been forced to work together for quite some time.

Through his immense organizational abilities, Max had made himself indispensable to the President and many said indispensable to the United States of America. Others said his organization had become too preoccupied with how citizens should think and act.

“Did I miss David?” Max asked her.

As she shook her head, Anna found that her appetite had fled. She cradled the wine goblet and quickly set it down as she saw that her hand trembled. What was wrong with her?

“Are you feeling under the weather?” Max asked.

Anna forced herself to stare into his eyes. She’d dealt with some of the world’s most powerful people before, including Chancellor Kleist of the German Dominion. Surely, she could face the Director of Homeland Security. She found Max’s eyes like obsidian chips, emitting nothing, and today it felt as if they sucked the warmth out of her.

“Oh,” Max said. He used the voice of a reasonable man, of one with emotions, but those eyes said otherwise.

In that moment, Anna had the sense of really seeing the director for the first time. She felt as if she was in the presence of one of the loathsome secret policemen of history like Himmler, Dzerzhinsky of the NKVD or maybe even Robespierre, the master of the guillotine during the height of the French Revolution.

“I see,” Max said quietly, almost to himself.

Despite a feeling of weakness, Anna lifted the goblet. Her hand trembled, but she couldn’t help it. She sipped wine, needing it, hoping the alcohol could steady her nerves. She was seriously overreacting. It was ridiculous that she should fear Max Harold. She glanced at him, certain now that she’d see the man as he’d always been and not as some dangerous revolutionary bent on…what, amassing more power.

Max stretched his lips in the approximation of a smile. It showed his capped white teeth. As he smiled, the obsidian eyes observed her. To Anna, it felt as if he cataloged her reactions and made precise judgments. She disliked the sensation and came to a precise conclusion of her own. She wished he would sense her disquiet and do the gentlemanly thing and leave.

“The world has turned against us,” Max pronounced, as if speaking in committee and not just to her. “Greater China, Japan, Vietnam, Brazil, Venezuela, Germany, England, France… The list goes on and on of those arrayed against us.”

Anna took another sip of wine, and she realized she needed to set down the glass before she drank too much, too fast. She was as light as a bird, and alcohol went straight to her brain. But the wine felt so good. The warmth in her throat and then in her belly…it soothed her.

“The Pan-Asian Alliance represents 44 percent of the world’s population,” Max was saying. “The German Dominion has another 6 percent and the South American Federation with Mexico adds yet another 6 percent. That means America and Canada faces 56 percent of the world. We, incidentally, have 5 percent of the Earth’s people. Tell me, Anna, do you believe we can kill ten of them for every one of ours we lose?”

She felt her eyelids blinking, more like fluttering the way a hummingbird’s wings moved in a blur. It almost felt as if her eyelashes caught occasionally. The wine helped oil her tongue, and she said, “We’re not facing all 56 percent,” she said. “We’re facing the various militaries. Two large oceans separate us from most of them. That means we’re—”

“Your point is well taken,” Max said, interrupting her. “If we could destroy their navies, the war would quickly dwindle into nothing.”

“I suppose that’s true. But why tell me this here? I’m trying to relax, to take a break from it all.”

Max’s lips stretched a little more, as if to indicate greater humor. It merely made him seem more predatory.

“Shouldn’t you be telling David this?” Anna asked.

“Ah,” Max said, as he put his hands on the table. Although he had a carefully tailored reputation for roughing it, the director had manicured fingers and two large rings. The biggest had a huge opal. The ring must have cost a small fortune. “I see you like to place your cards face up,” Max said.

“I don’t believe that I have any idea what you’re talking about,” Anna said, and she didn’t.

The smile vanished, and the director’s eyes became more intent. They seemed like drills then that bored into her. It made Anna feel as if he stripped away her clothes and exposed her flesh. By an act of will, she kept herself from shuddering. What would he do if she hurled the last of her wine into his face? She quickly looked down. What was she thinking? This was the Director of Homeland Security, not a stalking rapist. She needed to rein in an overactive imagination. Maybe work had gotten to her more than she realized.

“Let us speak frankly to each other,” Max said.

She couldn’t speak, but she managed to nod. Maybe her instincts were correct. The way he said that, it sounded ominous. Yet why would the director pick Frobisher’s for a confrontation? It didn’t make sense.

“David is wilting under the pressure,” Max told her.

As one of the stalwarts of the administration, Max shouldn’t say such a thing. It was disloyal. The words shocked her.

While still keeping her gaze down, Anna opened her mouth to retort.

“Now I’m the first to admit that the President made a masterful stroke this winter,” Max said, his voice rising as if to forestall her from interrupting. “I applauded the hard choices he made to give us our glorious victory over the Chinese. The President not only made tough decision but he stuck to them in the darkest hours. I also believe that you helped steady him this winter. He needed you, Anna. And you, too, have worked diligently for the United States of America. You have risen to the challenge when your country needed you. I admire that, and I will never forget your services.”

“What are you talking about?” Anna said, sharply.

The director raised an eyebrow.

Having finally become angry, she lifted her gaze and stared into his eyes. “You’re speaking as if David…why, as if he’s out of the picture somehow.”

The director hesitated before saying, “If you believe I’ve implied that, you’ve misunderstood me.”

That pause wasn’t a mistake. Is he threatening me? Is he threatening David? Why is he saying any of this?

“May I ask you a question?” Max asked.

“I’m not sure I care for any of this,” she said.

“No, I’m sure you don’t. But this is much more than our feelings, Ms. Chen. This concerns our country. I love my country.”

“So do I,” she said.

“I know. It’s the reason I’m speaking to you as I am.”

“And how is that?” she asked.

He smiled once more. This smile seemed more genuine but also more rapacious. “I’ve struck a nerve, have I? Your…shall we call it reserve?”

She kept her gaze on him, and she realized that she was more than angry. She was furious.

“Yes,” Max said, “let us call it your natural reserve. It has vanished because you think I’ve spoken ill about the President.”

“You’re implying he is no longer capable of doing his job,” Anna said.

“Ah,” Max said. “That is an interesting choice of words. I would like to point out that you spoke them. I did not.”

“What is this about, Director?”

“I’ve made you worried, have I? That is interesting. Until this moment, you have likely felt that you’re the only one who realized that David Sims has lost his nerve.”

“I’m not going to sit here and listen to you—”

As she spoke, Max reached across the table and took her right hand. The touch sparked against her, making her stiffen. His grip was surprisingly strong. He leaned closer so his face seemed to fill her world. The touch peeled away the last layer, or maybe scales fell from her eyes. His look had become flinty and his soul unfolded like a poisonous flower. Max Harold was hard and ruthless like a Himmler, like a Robespierre. Understanding that about him…it suddenly frightened Anna.

“You must listen to me carefully,” Max said. “And you must decide who you love more: David or the United States.”

“Ma’am,” Demetrius said. “Are you well?”

Anna tried to tug her hand free, but the director held it too tightly against the tabletop.

Surely, Demetrius saw that. He put a big hand on the director’s left shoulder. “Sir, I’ll have to ask you to release Ms. Chen.”

Before Max could respond, the three Militia bodyguards surrounded Demetrius. To Anna’s horrified astonishment, one of the bodyguards poked a silver barrel against Demetrius’s side. The other two laid hands on the agent’s arm.

“Do you want a fight, Director?” Demetrius asked.

“Get your filthy hand off me,” Max told him. “No one touches me.”

“First you’ll have to release Ms. Chen,” Demetrius said.

Anna sat like a statue, drinking in the details but unable to move, unable to speak. She could see the wheels turning in the director’s eyes.

Abruptly, Max let go of Anna’s hand. She slid it back to her lap. It felt as if the skin was on fire.

Demetrius released the director.

“What are your wishes, sir?” asked the bodyguard with the gun jabbed against Demetrius’s side.

Max brushed his shoulder where Demetrius had put his hand. “Sit down,” he told his men. “But watch him. If he touches me again…” Max looked up at Demetrius. “You men will know what to do.”

“Yes, sir,” the bodyguard said, the one with the gun. He withdrew the weapon and holstered it inside his jacket. Afterward, the three bodyguards returned to their table.

“I will remember this,” Max told Demetrius.

Demetrius didn’t bother replying. He asked Anna, “What are your wishes, ma’am?”

The possible violence had unnerved her. She didn’t know what to say.

“You would do well to hear me out,” Max told her.

“Yes,” she said in a hollow voice.

Demetrius retreated to his post, and he stood in the same place, looking the same as before.

He’s brave, Anna realized. He follows his code of honor and nothing can shake it. Am I as honorable concerning David?

“You have misjudged my purpose,” Max said.

“What is it?” she asked. “Why have you told me any of this?”

“Because I love my country,” Max said. “America is in greater danger than ever. You and I both know the President engineered the new danger. Perhaps even more importantly, the President knows this is his fault. That knowledge is eating him alive.”

“You’re referring to the GD and Quebec?”

“Of course,” Max said. “We are now in a two-front war. That never worked well for Germany in the Twentieth Century. I do not believe it will work well for us, either.”

“I was there when we decided to accept GD neutrality,” Anna said. “You were there, too, and you agreed to the idea.”

“I had no quarrels with the plan. That is correct. The President made the best decision at the time. The Chinese and Brazilians almost broke us this winter. The Colorado battle was closer fought than people realize. The President dealt in such a way so he could concentrate our forces. That was bold as well as wise.”

“Then why are you—”

“Let me finish,” Max said.

Anna nodded, albeit reluctantly. She noticed a waiter turn and look at them. An older waiter tugged on the first waiter’s elbow, pulling him away.

“The President bought America time,” Max said. “Now, however, the GD acted before we could. We—I mean the President, myself, General Alan—we all miscalculated. We counted the number of GD troops in Quebec instead of analyzing their combat power. The Germans have amazed us and worse, surprised us. Even worse than that, they’re beating us in Southern Ontario. America must take drastic action if we’re to restore the balance.”

“We have another hard year of war ahead of us,” Anna said. “I understand that.”

“I don’t believe you do understand.” Max held up a hand. “I have always been impressed with your analytical abilities. You have an insightful way of thinking. And you can read the Chinese—Chairman Hong in particular—better than anyone else can. That is an important asset. However, if the GD continues to grind down our military and gain critical territory…there may be no more years of war ahead of us to wage.”

“You don’t think we can stop the GD?”

“Not with the weapon systems presently in place,” Max said. “Therefore, we must move the Behemoth tanks to the Great Lakes region.”

“You and I both know the President has forbidden that.”

“Precisely,” Max said.

Anna shook her head. “I won’t pretend to be a military expert. The President, though—”

“The President has lost his nerve,” Max said. “That is the salient point. Nothing else really matters. Oh, we can talk about reasons: that the war has ground him down. You’ve seen it. I know you have. The pressure would have destroyed most people by now. The President has my sympathies, in fact.”

“You don’t mean that,” Anna said. “You don’t care about him as a person.”

“But I do,” Max said. “Yes. I know people believe me coldhearted and too logical.”

“Others say you’re power mad,” Anna said.

“I am misperceived,” the director said. “My intense patriotism gives me the zeal to do whatever I must to protect America. Others interpret that as a desire for power. They are, of course, quite wrong. With all that said, I have found that few people will go as far as I to see my beloved country saved from power-hungry aggression. Can you say as much, Ms. Chen?”

“You will do whatever you must to save America?” Anna asked.

“Yes!”

“Hmm,” Anna said. “A surface reading of such a statement might seem noble. I, on the other hand, can think of many things I would not do. For instance, I would not sacrifice babies.”

“Then you should step down from power and make way for those of us who will see a tough and dirty job done to the finish.”

“Would you care to give me a for-instance?” she asked.

“Of course,” Max said. “Not only am I able to face the truth, but I am able to speak the truth as I’m doing here with you. A for-instance is the use of tactical nuclear weapons.”

“I see,” Anna said, as her stomach tightened. “Do you happen to recall Alaska? Do you remember how it turned the world against us and left us almost without an ally?”

“My memory doesn’t go back so far,” Max said. “Yet I do recall Santa Cruz and Monetary Bay. Several key nuclear explosions blunted a Chinese amphibious invasion. Without those nuclear weapons, we might have lost California, and that would have been a disaster. The President saw the need then and made the right decision. Now, in Southern Ontario, tactical nuclear weapons used judiciously could change the dynamics for us.”

“The President has forbidden the use of nuclear weapons on land,” Anna said.

“Naturally, I’m aware of that, Ms. Chen. With his decision, he has consigned the U.S. to the dustbin of history.”

“Others might say he has agreed to help save the world from destruction and a bitter nuclear winter.”

“Words,” Max said. “Those are fancy words for surrender. I for one do not intend to let conquerors take my beloved country away from us. No. The time has come for hard decisions. We must halt the Germans and drive them out of Quebec.”

“The President is in full agreement with that.”

“More words,” Max said. “He forbids the military the Behemoths they need and the nuclear weapons to do the task. Instead, he causes a bloodbath—”

Anna’s eyes flashed. She leaned toward the director. “He causes nothing of the sort.”

“American and Canadian soldiers are dying by the thousands, by the tens of thousands in Ontario,” Max said, “and still we fail to take the necessary action to solve the crisis.”

“The strategic reserve has moved to Southern Ontario,” Anna said. “David considers sending half the East Coast defenders north to the Great Lakes. I would call that drastic action.”

“Ms. Chen,” the director said. “You must listen to me. Stripping the East Coast is a foolish decision in face of what awaits us in Cuba. The President once made hard, even bitter choices this winter. He did not shrink from what needed doing. Now the momentous nature of the conflict has paralyzed him. I believe the knowledge that he let the Germans into Quebec—that he is responsible for the present bloodletting—”

“How dare you say such things?” Anna said.

Max sat straighter, squaring his shoulders with pride. “I will dare anything for my country.”

“No! You are—”

“You must listen to me,” Max said. “The President is taking half-measures and he is stripping away soldiers to put out a fire in one place that will open us to worse actions later. It is just like his Quebec decision all over again.”

Anna sat back. She could feel the cushion depress against the wood. The director’s mind was set in stone on this. It was time to find out exactly why he’d come here. “What do you suggest?” she asked.

“First, we need to move the Behemoths east.”

“Weren’t you listening the other day?” she asked. “The Behemoth Regiment is a shell of what it once was. We need time to refurbish it with new tanks. Moving the regiment won’t help in Ontario, but its disappearance on the plains might help to unleash the Chinese in Oklahoma. The few good Behemoths we do possess make a constant show of patrolling no man’s land between the PAA and us.”

“You are the one who wasn’t listening the other day,” Max said. “We’ve built a new Behemoth Manufacturing Plant in Detroit. We will lose the war if the Germans reach it.”

With a sudden move, Anna picked up the wine glass and drained the alcohol. “I don’t know why you’ve come to say any of this to me. You should speak to David, to the President.”

“How can I do that?” Max asked. “He’s having a nervous breakdown. We who love our country need to help him during this dark hour. We need to help him do the right thing.”

Anna couldn’t believe he’d just said that. It was true that the pressures against David had unhinged— No! That was a bad choice of words. The pressures had debilitated David; it hadn’t unhinged him. He had trouble making decisions lately other than holding everything as it had been. Ever since the GD had unleashed its offensive and used those Kaiser hunter-killers…

“What are you really suggesting?” she asked. “You obviously came here to see me. Now say what you came to say.”

Max watched her more closely than ever. “First I need to know whether you agree with me or not about the President.”

Anna debated pretending to agree in order to find out Max’s full scheme. He must realize she would never agree to help in whatever he planned. He—

A chill set in. Why has he sought me out and told me these things if he knows I’ll never agree with him?

Troubled, Anna thought furiously. If the director knew she would tell David about this… She stared at the man. He watched her, no doubt gauging her reactions.

He’s telling me these things so I’ll tell David.

Then it hit her, the real reason for all this. If David learned that Max plotted behind his back, it would add to his worries. She’d heard David say before that Max helped him tremendously with these heavy responsibilities. Hearing about this would put more pressure on David. The Director of Homeland Security wanted her to tell the President. If true—and it had to be true—nothing else made sense. It was a diabolical piece of skullduggery. Surely, it meant that Max felt strong enough to challenge the President directly.

Or is this to force David into doing things Max’s way?

“David beat the Chinese in Alaska,” Anna said.

“He’s beaten the Chinese elsewhere too, once in California and again this winter in Colorado. He has saved our country from three military catastrophes. No one could have done better. Yet you’ve heard the generals tell us that a man only has a limited time for war. Once that time is gone…”

“Are you suggesting the people replace David at the helm?” she asked.

Max watched her steadily as he said, “The people would never do such a thing. He has become the father of our country, protecting us where no one else reasonably could. They’re not going to vote against him until it’s too late.”

The chill in her caused her shoulders to twitch. “It’s time you spoke plainly,” she said.

“No,” Max said. “I’ve said quite enough. Thank you, Ms. Chen.”

She almost blurted out that she’d tell David about this, but could she afford to tell the President? Might it drive him over the edge?

Max stood and gave her a curt nod. He turned away and stepped down from the alcove. His bodyguards hurried to their feet.

Anna watched them go, and she thought to herself: This is bad. I don’t know what to do.

TOPEKA, KANSAS

Sergeant Jake Higgins of the Eleventh Colorado Detention Militia Battalion (CDMB) was very drunk. He staggered down a dark city street in Topeka, Kansas, heading toward trouble.

None of the lamps worked and low clouds hid the stars. Because of that, he crashed against a garbage can, knocking it to the ground with a lot of noise and slurred curses. He fell, and his hands squished against something wet and smelly. Then he felt wetness soak through his knees.

With a lurch he rose, swaying and blinking, muttering more profanities. His two best friends snored in a bar whose name he couldn’t remember. They were fellow militiamen of the Eleventh, and the three of them had been to Hell and back this winter. Jake had left his friends in the bar because the bartender had shut him down, and this soldier still needed more to slake his thirst.

Jake was a stocky young man with good shoulders, barely out of his teens and already a hard-bitten fighting man. He had survived Amarillo, Texas last summer when the Chinese had surrounded several U.S. divisions. It had been grim butchery, but Jake and a number of his compatriots had fought their way free of the encirclement and headed northwest. Jake had been the only one to reach Colorado. He’d arrived in time to go to Denver. There, he had survived the historic siege of Denver, the equal to the siege of Stalingrad in World War II. During the fighting, he had worked up the ranks from private and fought his way free with the rest of the Eleventh to the Rockies.

“Gotta be an open bar around here somewhere,” Jake muttered. His eyesight had gone sideways and he had to squint what seemed like down a tunnel to tell where he went.

There. He spied a blinking light. It was down a long alleyway with old trash barrels lining the route as if they were sentries. The light had red and blue colors, a neon sign. Surely, that must be a bar or a place to drink, at least.

In a lurching step, he set off for the neon sign.

Jake hadn’t always been a good soldier boy who obeyed every order. Originally, he had found himself in a detention center, in a cell, learning that it didn’t pay to protest the President and his dictatorial policies. Jake had been kicked out of college because of the protests. He’d made them with others because they hadn’t cared for the illegality of some of President Sims’ decrees. Homeland Security people in the detention center had known how to take care of such talk and such ill-advised thoughts. They had special cells for that.

Jake spat in the darkness. In truth, he hadn’t learned his lessons very well. They’d let him go to join a Militia battalion because his old man, Colonel Stan Higgins, had been a hero in the Southern California fighting. His father had also been a hero in 2032 in Alaska. His father presently commanded the famous Behemoth Regiment. His father was a war hero and Jake was proud of his old man. He wanted to be like his dad and like his grandfather, who had died in the Alaskan War, killing Chinese invaders.

The Higginses knew how to soldier. That was clear to anyone with eyes to see. Jake was young, and he had learned about old-style America where a man spoke his mind. His father had taught him history, and his father had taught him that America was a unique and special country, the apple of God’s eye. Jake spoke his mind, and Homeland Security people didn’t like that, no thank you.

Yet he was a militiaman of the Eleventh CDMB, a hard-fighting man in the Homeland Security apparatus. The higher-ups in the organization liked him, including the steroid monster, the lieutenant. Go figure. In fact, the lieutenant was one of the two men snoring in the last bar.

Jake laughed, although it had a sour note to it. He loved America, but he didn’t like holding back about what he thought. He’d bled for his country. He’d put his life on the line more times than he could remember. Even more, he’d killed for America. The killing was why he was out here staggering around looking for more to drink.

It was funny. No one had told him about this. Killing a man…it took something out of you. Sometimes his dreams—

Jake shook his head, and he cursed. He didn’t want to think about his dreams. He wanted to forget them. He wanted to forget about exploding bodies and pieces of bloody human sticking to his cheek. He wanted to forget about jabbing a knife into Chinese soldiers, or gunning them down as they ran away. Most of all, he wanted to forget about how good it felt when they ran and how good it felt to kill another human being so he could live another day.

Jake worried about himself. He worried about what sort of person he had become. Sure, the Chinese had invaded them. They deserved no better than death. But should he enjoy it so much when he killed them?

He remembered up in Alaska in his childhood. They’d had a cat named Tinkerbell. As a kid, he had called it Stinkerbell, and that had made his sister yell. Anyway, the cat caught a young jackrabbit once. The cat had played with its prey, clawing it, throwing it around and waiting for it to try to run away. As the baby jackrabbit made its feeble attempt to flee, the waiting cat pounced, caught the little thing and bit it in the neck. Jake remembered watching, fascinated. He’d thought the cat cruel, although his dad had told him later that that was the way of predators.

Am I a predator now? Has the Militia turned me into a killer?

Jake swallowed uneasily.

Maybe he should stop blaming the Militia. Maybe he had always been a killer, and this war had simply brought it out of him. He had killed fellow human beings.

Jake stopped, and he banged the back of his boot heel against the alleyway. He didn’t want to think deep thoughts. The war had caught him. That’s all. He’d been through the worst of it. He’d survived Denver and had seen truly awful things. He would never be able to tell others who hadn’t been through it what it had been like. He felt closer to his grandfather, who had been a weirdo at the end of his life. His grandfather had been a warrior. War, and especially killing, changed a man. There was simply no way around that.

“Hey!” Jake shouted.

He’d almost reached the neon sign. A soldier opened the door, and Jake heard music and saw flashing lights. He also caught the flash of a naked tit. Oh, okay, this was a strip club.

Jake grinned from ear to ear. He didn’t realize there had been one of these in Topeka. Several seconds later, he paid the entrance fee, stomped his feet upon entering, and stared in fascination at the woman on stage. She wore a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and little else, and her tits jiggled as she danced around the pole. Oh man, but she was hot.

“Beer,” he told a burly man.

The bald man with a square build didn’t say anything. He just pointed at the obvious bar.

Jake staggered there, slapped money on the bar and waited, turning and watching the woman gyrate to the pulse-pounding rock and roll. She ground her hips against the pole, moved away and high-stepped. She stared at the men looking up at her, and she spied Jake at the bar. She took off her cowboy hat—she had dark hair that spilled down to the middle of her back. She twirled the hat around and threw it at Jake.

The hat sailed through the air. Men turned around, watching it. Jake reached up drunkenly, and he caught the hat. Maybe she’d been a powder-puff quarterback in high school. It had been a good throw; right at him. Jake laughed, and he put the hat on his head.

“Here you go, cowboy,” a pretty woman said on the other side of the bar. She clunked a full glass on the wood. “Have a good time.”

Jake agreed with her, picked up the beer and staggered to the stage.

Men sat beside it, looking up with lust-glazed eyes at the dancer. They held bills in their fists. The stripper danced for them one by one, and each man put dollars on the stage. She was good at picking them up.

Jake watched spellbound, drinking beers and judging three different strippers. He went to the restroom several times. The last time he bumped against walls, and he vomited in a sink.

“Hey, stupid,” a tall man said. “Use the toilet for that.”

Hardly able to see at this point, Jake gave him the finger. The man scowled, gave him the finger back. It was the longest finger Jake had ever seen, with a black-painted fingernail bitten down close. Jake rushed the guy. He hit Mr. Black Fingernail several times. They were uncoordinated swings, but they were enough. He left the tall guy on the restroom floor, with his eyes closed.

As Jake tried to stagger back to the stage, a waitress intercepted him.

“Your nose is bleeding,” she said.

“Huh?” Jake asked.

“It looks like someone hit you,” the woman said. “Are you okay?”

Jake brushed his nose and was amazed to see bright red blood on his fingers. He laughed, wiped his nose again and came away with more blood.

“Here,” the woman said.

Jake peered at her. She had long dark hair. She was pretty. Oh, she’d stripped earlier, although she wore waitressing clothes now with outrageous high heels. The girl—she couldn’t be more than eighteen—had tossed him the cowboy hat. He still wore it.

“Hold still,” she told him.

He realized she’d been handing him a towel, but he hadn’t taken it. So now, she wiped his nose for him. He hardly felt a thing.

“Did someone hit you?” she asked.

“Maybe,” he said, slurring as he spoke.

“You’re totally drunk,” she said.

He just grinned at that.

“You should sit down, maybe drink some water.”

“Beer,” he said. “I need more beer.”

“Look,” she said, glancing around and seeming worried. “Give me a dollar, anything, make it look like I’m working, not just talking to you.”

He dug in his pockets before shaking his head. “I gave all my bills to you.”

“Then give me your hand,” she said.

He did, and she pretended to take something from him. Jake turned around, and he saw the bald, square-shaped man heading toward him. The man stopped and he turned away. Why had he done that?

“He wants to start something with me?” Jake slurred belligerently.

“Don’t let it worry you, cowboy,” the girl said. “He’s just doing his job. He’s making sure—oh, never mind.”

“What about you?” Jake asked. “You’re nice. Why are you working at a place like this?”

Instead of scowling, she looked away, almost in a shy manner. “I don’t have a choice,” she finally said. “My mom and dad…they’re gone.”

“Killed?” Jake asked.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s the word for it.”

“It’s a dirty thing, war,” Jake said. “I’m so sick of it.”

“You’d better watch what you say,” she told him, looking worried again. “Some of our customers belong to Homeland Security. You don’t want to let them hear anything seditious.”

“Seditious?” Jake asked. “Are you kidding me? I’ve bled a hundred times more blood than you just wiped away from my nose. I’ve killed invaders by the dozen. I’ll say exactly what I want to say, and nobody is going to tell me differently because I’m an American.”

“Shh,” she said, touching his forearm. “You’re talking too loudly.”

Jake found he liked her touch. He’d just seen her in the nude. Oh man, she had fantastic tits, great legs and an ass—

“You’re pretty,” he said. “I like you.”

“You seem like a sweet boy,” she said.

“Boy?” he said. “I’m—”

She squeezed his forearm. “You’re a man, I know. I saw how you looked at me.”

He nodded, and he wanted to grab her, kiss her and maybe even do more than that. He’d just seen her naked, hadn’t he? He grinned like an idiot until he recalled the square-shaped man.

“Is he mean to you?” Jake asked.

“What?” she asked.

“Mr. Square?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I’d better go. Maybe I’ll talk to you after work.”

She turned away, but Jake decided that she had touched him, why couldn’t he touch her? Fair was fair, right? So he grabbed her and pulled her back.

“You’re hurting me,” she said.

He let go. “Sorry. Sorry, I don’t mean to hurt you. Are you okay?”

“You can’t touch me. Frank will kick you out of here if you touch me.”

“Mr. Square, you mean?”

“Look,” she said.

Jake slapped his chest, and until this moment, he hadn’t gotten himself into any more trouble than a young man might in such a place. He opened his mouth, and he talked loudly again.

“I killed for our country. I shot and stabbed Chinese invaders so free Americans can speak their mind. I don’t mind saying what I think, do you know that?”

The girl stared at him.

Jake slapped his chest again. He liked her staring at him and he liked talking about something so close to his heart. He had spent time in the detention center because he had what his dad called moral courage. He dared to speak truth to power. America needed more of that. Sure, it was a fight to the death with the invaders, but freedom only came to those willing to pay the heavy cost.

“I’ll speak to who I want to speak to and I’ll say what I think about anything,” he said.

She nodded, with her eyes wide.

“Do you know that the President has made decrees that are against the law?” Jake asked.

She shook her head.

“Oh yeah,” Jake said. “But I figure Sims believes he’s doing right. It’s that other guy.”

“Who’s that?” she asked.

Jake made a face. He was so drunk his features felt numb, as if he moved cardboard. “Max Harold, the Director of Homeland Security, he’s a fascist. He doesn’t like letting Americans say what they want to. You know what…”

“What?” she asked.

“What’s your name?” Jake asked.

“Sheila.”

“Sheila,” Jake said—and suddenly he had to take a piss again. He really needed to go. He’d been drinking beer like a horse for hours upon hours. The need welled up and overpowered him. If he rushed into the restroom, Sheila would go elsewhere. He liked her. She even wanted to meet after work.

His drunken mind spun fast, and it came to him then in totally clarity what would impress a stripper.

“Watch this,” Jake said. He pulled out his wallet, fumbled to open it and fumbled even more to draw out his Militia card. It was like a driver’s license, but had two pictures instead of just one. It had his mug shot, and it showed in the opposite corner Director Max Harold of Homeland Security.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “I thought you said you don’t have any more money.”

“I’m giving you a visual of my feelings,” Jake said. He tossed the ID card onto the floor and zipped down his fly.

“Hey, you can’t do that,” she said.

Jake dug out his shlong and whipped it out. Normally, he couldn’t use a urinal if someone stood beside him using the next one. He needed to piss alone. But the beer poured through his system and his bladder was just plum full. Jake proceeded to urinate onto the Militia ID card, particularly on the director.

It caused a minor outrage in the strip joint. The square-shaped bouncer hurried near. Sheila backed away and looked at Jake in horror, while a large man with red eyes and a redder nose took out a voice recorder. He spoke into it before marching near.

“Hey,” Jake said. “Unhand me.”

The bouncer had a fierce grip, and the man was strong.

“Let me zip up at least,” Jake said.

“Just a moment,” the large man with red eyes said. “You’re a Militiaman?” he asked Jake.

“That’s right. What’s it to you?”

“I heard some of what you’ve been saying. What did you just think you were doing?”

“Pissing on the director,” Jake said proudly.

The man’s red eyes squinted. “The director of what?” he asked.

The girl stepped near, and maybe she was thinking about warning Jake.

Jake missed it, and he therefore missed his last chance to stay out of bad trouble. “Are you kidding me, mister?” Jake asked. “I’m an American and I tell it like it is. The director is the dictator’s puppet, and he’s taking away too many of our liberties.”

“Do you mean Max Harold?” the red-eyed man asked.

“Yeah, I mean him,” Jake said.

“Shut up!” Sheila said. “Don’t say anything more.”

The big red-eyed man glanced at Sheila and then back at Jake. “Would you care to repeat that?” he asked Jake.

Jake saw the voice recorder. In his blurry mind, it seemed like a TV reporter’s microphone. He leaned near, figuring that finally someone would go on record and say it like it was.

“Jake,” Sheila said.

“The Director of Homeland Security is the dictator’s puppet,” Jake said slowly in his slurry voice. “He’s taking away too many of our precious American liberties, and I for one am not going to stand for it any longer.”

Sheila groaned and shook her head.

Jake grinned at the red-eyed man.

The big man used his thumb to turn off the recorder. He stuffed it in his pocket before turning to the bouncer. “Put him in the other room,” he said.

“Beat him up?” the bouncer asked.

“No,” the big man said. “I’m calling my MPs. I know exactly what to do with a dissenter like this.”

“What’s that?” Sheila asked.

The big man looked at her in surprise. “Is he your boyfriend?”

“No. I just met him tonight.”

“Well, say goodbye to him,” the big man said. “Unless I miss my guess, he’s headed for New England for one of the new penal battalions.”

“Who are you?” Jake asked, with the first touch of worry in his voice.

“Take him,” the big man told the bouncer. “And keep him there until my MPs arrive.”

The bouncer twisted Jake’s arm behind his back.

“Hey, let go of me,” Jake said. No one paid any attention as Mr. Square marched him against his will into a holding room. He struggled, but then it hit him hard: the amount of alcohol he’d poured into his system.

“Just a minute,” he mumbled. Then Jake vomited for the second time tonight. He would pay for this later, he knew, but he didn’t really realize just how much.

-3- Choices

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

General Walther Mansfeld, the commanding general of the GD Expeditionary Force in North America, rubbed the bridge of his nose.

He was an athletic man, a former gymnast who had won a bronze medal on the parallel bars in the 2016 Olympics. At fifty, he was short, trim and in excellent condition. He ran three kilometers every day and stretched to keep himself limber. More importantly, he had a razor-sharp intellect and he knew himself to be the best battlefield commander in the German Dominion, which meant he was the best in the world.

Excellence in all things, it was Mansfeld’s motto. The only one who had ever approached him in ability was the Chancellor. Normally, Kleist held all the cards. The one thing Chancellor Kleist couldn’t do was win a battle brilliantly. It’s why the man had let him live four months ago when Kleist had summoned him with the thought to execute him.

Mansfeld tapped the computer battle map. A hot cup of coffee steamed beside it, his fifth this morning. He drank far too much, but he needed the caffeine, as it helped to stimulate his thoughts.

Mansfeld picked up the cup and sipped delicately as his steely eyes studied the military situation. So far, the battles had gone to form just as he had predicted in Berlin that day. The Canadians fought well given their inferior weaponry. The Americans showed stubbornness, and they steadily added reinforcements as they lost engagement after engagement. He had tested his opposite number and found the commanding American general wanting. The man would continue to add driblets. The American General Staff and perhaps the President hadn’t yet realized their danger. How could they? They were not geniuses of battle like him.

All his life Mansfeld had seen further and more deeply than those around him could. The only man whose mind he respected was Chancellor Kleist. Maybe the American who had come up with the battle plan this winter to maul the Chinese had a superior intellect. Otherwise, the world was a barren desert, a wasteland in terms of thinkers.

He sipped more coffee, holding the liquid on his tongue as he attempted to extract the greatest amount of enjoyment from it he could. He wished he could find a way to make this drink taste as good as the first one in the morning. Every day, he looked forward to his first sip of coffee. Nothing tasted quite as good. He wondered why that was, and smiled indulgently. He knew the answer, of course, but he asked himself the question almost every morning around now.

Mansfeld clicked the cup onto its saucer and tapped the battle map. He enlarged the area around the Toronto Pocket.

The fierce defensive fighting hadn’t surprise him. These were first-rate American units in Toronto. Their commander had used them to plug the gap to try to halt the relentless GD advance toward Detroit.

Mansfeld smiled. He knew it made him seem like an eagle surveying the countryside for prey. He fought at too swift a pace for the Americans. The Canadians had melted like butter those first few days. Later, the Canadians had stiffened for a time. He kept producing surprises, though, keeping the enemy off balance.

Yes, the enemy commander had thought to stem the relentless tide of GD victory before the largest city of Canada, Toronto. It had been the obvious thing to do, and in many ways, the correct move. Cities, especially big cities, could often become defender fortresses.

The allied Canadians and Americans finally had the numbers they needed. They had first-rate soldiers and for their side, modern equipment. Yes, the enemy commander had made the correct choice—or so it had seemed. Stop the relentless GD torrent at Toronto.

Thinking about it, Mansfeld smirked.

He had saved one of his trump cards for just such a moment. Actually, he had saved two trumps. Until that moment, he had kept the laser-armed Sabre fighter-jets out of battle. With them providing air cover, he had mass-airlifted light tanks. Then he had dropped the Ritter tanks as if they were paratroopers behind the main enemy concentrations. In conjunction with that, he had used mass Galahad hovers to swing around the city on Lake Ontario.

Oh yes, the American general had attempted to seal Southern Ontario between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. He had thought to turn Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe into a fortress so the dreaded GD couldn’t practice anymore blitzkrieg tactics. The so-called horseshoe area contained over nine million people, twenty-six percent of Canada’s former population. The enemy commander had not realized the GD ability to use the air as a flank.

Some of Mansfeld’s staff had shown surprise at this. The Americans often employed helicopter-borne troops in mass. The enemy had also faced Chinese jetpack commandos before. Surely, the Americans should understand better than anyone that air was another flank in modern war.

As he studied the computer map, Mansfeld had known the Americans wouldn’t understand. Who could airdrop tanks? No one had ever done it before. Therefore, no one thought of it, no one that is except for General Walther Mansfeld of the GD Expeditionary Force. Because of the brilliant maneuver, he had trapped the first-rate Americans and Canadians in Toronto. Now he began the annihilation of those soldiers—soldiers the Americans would badly need in the coming weeks.

“In six more days,” Mansfeld said aloud—he was quite alone. “In six more days I will kill or capture the last of you trapped men.”

The blitzkrieg would resume and the American command would panic. They would rush reinforcements before him, putting them in exactly the wrong places. Why were commanding officers of armies and the leaders of countries and power blocs so obvious?

Mansfeld picked up the coffee cup and sipped. He took a deep breath afterward. He would win the war. He knew that. His true opponent wasn’t the Americans or the broken Canadians. No. Chancellor Kleist was his real foe. So far, Kleist had kept his nose out of his affairs in running the day-to-day operations. There would come a moment, however, when Kleist would interfere. The Americans were stubborn, and they would fight hard. They would produce one seeming crisis moment, and that crisis would break Kleist’s so-called steely nerves.

Clicking the half-full cup back onto its saucer, Mansfeld sat down and put his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes, and he visualized what had happened four months ago. His recall was incredibly sharp, better than anyone else’s that he knew about. His near-photographic retention was one of his secrets.

Kleist was his enemy. The reason was clear. Chancellor Kleist feared a man with such abilities as his. History supplied the reasons. No one else could outthink and outmaneuver the Chancellor except for him. Therefore, to keep himself secure as the ruler of United Europe, Kleist would believe he needed to eliminate the threat of the only other superior thinker in his midst.

With his eyes closed, Mansfeld smiled. This was a game of wits, of titans among pygmies. It would seem that Kleist held all the cards. Clearly, the Chancellor had the superior position of power.

“So it would seem,” Mansfeld whispered.

Yet it had also been that way four months ago. Kleist had summoned him back from Quebec to order him before a firing squad or lock him in with torturers. No one else had quite known that, although Mansfeld had known it with certainty. He’d faced Kleist and the GD General Staff alone in the den of lions. The Chancellor had planned to pin on him the fruits of his own—Kleist’s—mistake. The Chancellor had planned to shovel the blame and rid himself of his only true opponent. But the move had been so obvious that it had surprised Mansfeld that the Chancellor hadn’t recognized what the countermove would be.

With his hands behind his head, and with his eyes closed, General Mansfeld frowned. Kleist possessed a superior mind. Therefore—

Mansfeld opened his eyes and sat up. Did I miscalculate four months ago?

The idea galled him at first. Then he shook his head. Another of his powers was the ability to admit a mistake. It was conceivable that he had made an error at the meeting four months ago.

Mansfeld peered up at the ceiling. The tiles there had thousands of indentations that almost looked like holes. He closed his eyes and once more, he put his hands behind his head. He let himself relax.

He needed to use his memory. He needed to replay the meeting and see if Kleist had outfoxed him. The Chancellor could be incredibly subtle.

You must not let yourself become arrogant, Mansfeld reminded himself. That is the great trap for a genius like you. Repeat after me: I am not invincible.

“I am not invincible,” General Mansfeld whispered while in his chair.

He concentrated, and he thought back to the meeting four months ago in Berlin.

BERLIN, PRUSSIA—Four Months Ago

“General Mansfeld,” the Chancellor said in a dangerously silky voice, “tell us about that, won’t you?”

They met in the Defense Ministry, a midmorning meeting. Outside, cold rain pelted against the windows. At times, hail hit, sounding like pebbles as they struck.

Hostile eyes turned toward General Walther Mansfeld. He sat alone at the end of a long conference table. Along the walls, the Chancellor’s security detail watched Mansfeld with reptilian eyes. They were big men in black suits who could draw their weapons with startling speed. They wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him. Neither would they hesitate to drag him to the Chancellor’s “doctors.” There, Mansfeld knew, he would take many months dying as the specialists inflicted ever more ingenious pains. They would turn him into a mewling thing begging for death.

The thought might have weakened another man, but not Mansfeld. He played for the highest stakes in the most deadly occupation possible: political power. He was also the superior of every man he’d ever met in his life.

“Can it be you lack words, General?” Kleist asked, with a hint of his infamous gloating tingeing his speech.

The Chancellor had a strong voice and he was the same height as Mansfeld. They were two short men among physical giants—even if the others were mental pygmies compared to them. But where Mansfeld was trim like a rapier, Kleist was fat like a knotty oaken club. That was a key to understanding the man. Despite the Chancellor’s intellect, to Mansfeld Kleist seemed like a gutter-born thug. Despite his outer gloss of sophistication, Kleist was a brutal man with the instincts of an alpha wolf. All his life, the Chancellor had struck first and struck hard.

Kleist wore a brown suit and expensive Italian shoes. His chin was strong, his hands thick but small and he wore a silver wedding ring with a large diamond that seemed strangely out of place among these military men.

The General Staff members sitting along the sides of the table were large men with stiff, military postures. Each was well fed and each wore a crisp uniform, with the red General Staff stripes running down the legs of their trousers. Mansfeld wanted to sneer at them. To him, they were like Great Danes secretly quivering in fear of their master. They were also afraid of what he—Mansfeld—might say and that Kleist would hold the words against them.

It’s clear that none of them can understand my calm. None of them realizes how valuable I am to Kleist. What is sad is that Kleist doesn’t realize it yet either. Otherwise, he would not have called me back from Quebec to initiate this farce.

Kleist stared across the conference table at him, and the gloating had reached the Chancellor’s eyes. Yes, Kleist believed himself in control of the situation.

How can he not see that I am his only hope?

Finally, Mansfeld saw a hint of doubt cross the Chancellor’s face. It was a subtle thing. By now, Kleist had to be wondering why his general refused to let this spectacle cow him.

Because I know my worth, Mansfeld told himself. And I know that you will be wise enough to see it…as soon as I explain it to you.

“Are you tongue-tied?” Kleist asked.

“No, Excellency,” Mansfeld said in a ringing voice.

A few of the General Staff members looked at him with new eyes. It seemed their dull minds finally realized that none of this frightened him. A few frowned in puzzlement. It was clear they couldn’t fathom the source of his courage. Chancellor Kleist needed a scapegoat and the man had chosen the commanding officer of the German Expeditionary Force in Quebec, General Mansfeld.

“Well…?” Kleist asked. “What do you have to say for yourself? Come now, speak while you are able.”

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said, having waited for the moment to ripen. “My prediction concerning the Sino-American War proved incorrect in one particular only. Everything that went wrong afterward hinged upon that one fact.”

Kleist frowned, which meant the gloating had disappeared. When the man was winning at something, he became jovial. When he was losing, his bad temper was legendary. It must finally be dawning on the Chancellor that he had made a miscalculation, and he didn’t realize yet what that mistake was. It obviously troubled Kleist.

In an expert’s hands, the rapier always defeats the club. Despite his knowledge of that truth, Mansfeld did not smile. That would have been an error. I am not so stupid.

“You are free to speak, General,” Kleist said. “Please, enlighten us, if you would.”

The exquisite nature of the moment produced a churning feeling in Mansfeld’s gut. Some people referred it to as “the butterflies,” and they hated the sensation. It was otherwise with him. The churning told him he was alive, on the very knife-edge of existence.

I’m actually enjoying this. “The failure was political, Excellency,” Mansfeld said.

The statement electrified the chamber. The bovine faces of the General Staff members showed a mixture of fear and disbelief. Political mistakes weren’t the province of the military but of the Chancellor’s office, which was to say the Chancellor himself.

The words produced a reaction upon Kleist. Two spots of color appeared on his cheeks.

“Would you care to elaborate?” the Chancellor asked.

He chooses this route, does he? Very well, let it begin.

“If you will recall, Excellency,” Mansfeld said, “your political analysts made a clear prediction some months ago. A few of us questioned their findings, me in particular. Then you reprimanded the General Staff and the Planning Committee. If you recall, you told us that politics was outside our scope. You said that we understood military matters, but economics and politics were things best left to the experts.”

The wolf in Kleist showed in his eyes. It meant the man was ready to kill.

Mansfeld knew he would either rise higher than ever because of what he was about to say or he would leave this room dead. For him there were no other choices now. Since he had already weighed the odds and the outcome, he boldly proceeded with his plan.

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said, “the political analysts of the Home Office predicted a clear outcome. Last year, you offered the Americans our neutrality on the condition they cede us Quebec. The Home Office analysts were quite clear on the outcome of that. If the U.S. forced the Canadians to give us Quebec, the Canadians would effectively pull out of their alliance with America.”

“Yes,” Kleist said. “I remember.”

“We all remember,” Mansfeld said. “I accepted your office’s prediction as a truth because you said I must. Then I took into account what we knew concerning American recruitment, training and industry. Given all the facts, I calculated that the Americans would stop the Chinese-Brazilian advance in Wyoming-South Dakota-Iowa. I predicted the Americans would achieve the Aggressor stoppage at great cost in men and materiel to both the U.S. and Chinese-Brazilian forces.”

“It was because of your prediction that I agreed to neutrality,” Kleist said. He tugged as his right suit sleeve, fingering one of the buttons there. “You put yourself on the line and failed us all.”

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “My prediction would have proven true if the Canadians had acted as the Home Office said they would. Instead of acting how you predicted, Excellency, the Canadians wisely swallowed the insult to their sovereignty. They gave up Quebec and then acted in their ultimate best interest. They came to America’s aid and sent their army south. In other words, the Canadian military tipped the scales against the Chinese at the most critical moment. You must remember that the winter campaign was a close-fought affair.”

“What?” Chief of Staff Wessel asked, with his voice climbing an octave. He was a giant with snowy-white hair and he was the only Field Marshal present. “You call it close fought?” For such a large man, he had a surprisingly high voice when excited.

“I choose my words with care, sir,” Mansfeld said. “Yes, it was a close-fought thing.”

“No!” Wessel said. “It was not close fought. The Americans pulled a ‘miracle on the Marne’ against the Chinese.”

“It was not a miracle,” Mansfeld said. “It was well applied principles of war, used with some finesse, I might add. I find their result impressive, even worthy of study. Someone over there knows how to think.”

Wessel shook his ponderous head. “Your supposed intellect has driven you mad, General. How can you call the winter fighting close fought? The Americans broke through enemy lines and surrounded the Chinese Third Front, pinning them against the Rocky Mountains. After devastating battles, the Americans marched nearly a million Chinese soldiers into captivity. It was a catastrophe both for the Chinese and for us. It has allowed the Americans to solidify their defenses and makes our offensive this year impossible.”

“Yes, yes, yes, no, yes and no,” Mansfeld said.

“What?” Wessel asked.

Mansfeld noticed how Kleist watched him, searching for a sign of weakness. He would answer the Chief of Staff, but the words were really for the Chancellor.

“Yes,” Mansfeld said, “the Americans surrounded the majority of the Chinese Third Front, not its entirety. That’s an important distinction. Yes, the Americans captured one million Pan-Asian soldiers this winter. Yes, it was a catastrophe for the Chinese, but no, it wasn’t one for us. Yes, the American and Canadian defenses have stiffened. No, we are still quite able to mount an effective offensive this year out of Quebec.”

“What?” Wessel asked. “That’s preposterous. In fact, your words are meaningless. Your miscalculation will cost the Dominion dearly. It is too bad the Chancellor trusted you. You have betrayed his faith in your military acumen.”

Mansfeld allowed himself a brief smile. He let Kleist see that the smile came at Wessel’s expense. He did so for a purpose, not because he thought Field Marshal Wessel was a buffoon. The Chief of Staff was a buffoon, but that wasn’t the reason for the smile. This was the turning maneuver: to show Kleist where he needed to let the hammer fall. Because the Chancellor had summoned Mansfeld back to Berlin, Kleist needed to axe someone. That had been clear to Mansfeld from the moment he’d read the summons in Montreal three days ago.

Like a trapped bull being readied for castration, Wessel must have sensed danger. It was impossible the Chief of Staff understood the exact reason for the danger, but he must have smelled wolf in his nostrils and it likely terrified him.

Wessel pointed a big finger down the table at Mansfeld. “Have you conveniently forgotten? You predicted the Chinese and Americans would be locked in a wrestler’s embrace during the 2040 spring and summer. You said each would have bled themselves white against the other. Instead, the two have disengaged. They are not entwined in a wrestler’s hold. Each has built strong defensive lines. Such is the strength of the American line that they can pull troops from it and send large numbers elsewhere on the continent. Some of those excess numbers even now circle Quebec.”

“Correct,” Mansfeld said.

Wessel banged a fist against the table. “The Chinese have been bled white, but the Americans are stronger than ever.”

“No,” Mansfeld said. “That is incorrect.”

“You predicted that the situation would be ripe for us to exploit this year.”

“Correct,” Mansfeld said, “given that the Canadians did nothing, or at the very least refrained from helping the Americans. As I’ve said, the Canadian formations came to the rescue. They tipped the scales. The failure wasn’t mine…but that of the Home Office.”

“Tipped the scales?” Wessel asked in amazement. “The Americans won a strategic victory. That means the Canadians more than tipped the scales. The very extent of the victory means that what the Canadians did had no real bearing on the outcome of the battle. You grossly miscalculated. Because of our trust, you have harmed the Dominion.”

Mansfeld allowed himself to laugh aloud.

“You find our situation amusing?” Wessel asked. “We bartered with the North Americans to improve our strategic situation. Instead—”

“If you had studied the winter battle more intently, sir, you would realize how closely fought it truly was.” Mansfeld glanced at the others. Must he teach them the rudiments of war? The General Staff members didn’t even have second-rate minds. Third-rate would be more accurate.

“In every battle,” Mansfeld said, “there is a critical phase or moment. Upon that moment, everything hinges. I tell you that it was at that point the Canadians gave the Americans the needed edge.”

“You are wrong,” Wessel said.

“If you would pull your foot out of your mouth for a moment,” Mansfeld said, “maybe you could learn something.”

The words shocked Field Marshal Wessel, even as his face turned red. The red crept down his neck and disappeared under his tight collar.

“I refer to the time when the Americans and Canadians barely had enough military power to keep the encircled PAA Third Front trapped,” Mansfeld said. “That was the critical phase. With the Canadians’ help, the Americans had enough to keep the Chinese bagged. The gigantic encirclement is what cost the Chinese so dearly, the one million lost soldiers. Due to the loss, the Chinese and Brazilians wisely pulled back to New Mexico and Oklahoma.”

Field Marshal Wessel worked his mouth several times. Maybe in desperation, he finally turned to the Chancellor.

“Interesting,” Kleist said in a suave voice. “Perhaps there is merit to your opinion. I refer to the idea that it was closely fought at the critical phase. The important point lies elsewhere. The Chinese and Brazilians will now need time to gather their strength for a renewed offensive. The Americans surely realize this: that they have little to fear concerning a 2040 Chinese offensive. That means the Americans will be able to safely siphon large numbers of troops from their Midwestern defensive line and place them against us.”

“Perhaps,” Mansfeld said, “although I doubt it.”

“General,” Kleist said, “you are not here to sit in judgment of my words. I am here to sit in judgment of yours.”

“Yes, Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “Then perhaps it is time for me to give you a clearer reading of the situation.”

The chamber seemed to drop to freezing as the military men sat motionlessly, as the security detail along the walls held their breaths and as the color brightened on Kleist’s cheeks.

Mansfeld saw his death in the Chancellor’s eyes. Yet he also saw the curiosity there. He could have spoken with meekness a moment ago. Mansfeld did not do so in order to teach Kleist a lesson the Chancellor would remember. He needed Kleist to understand that only one man could give him what he desired in North America—and that man one was General Walther Mansfeld. There was going to come a time this summer when Mansfeld would need Kleist to keep his nerve. That’s why he spoke as he did to the Chancellor. For others, this might have been a mad gamble. For the supreme strategist and tactician on Earth, this was a precise move calculated to perfection.

Wessel turned his head as if the neck had rusted into place. “Excellency,” Wessel said in a choking voice. “Let me—”

“Silence,” Kleist said.

Wessel blinked several times until the man dipped his chin.

“You have courage,” Kleist told Mansfeld. “And some acclaim you as the most gifted strategist since Erich von Manstein. Very well, tell me how you see the situation.”

Mansfeld noted the tell me, not tell us. The distinction was important.

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said, “the Chinese-Brazilian invasion hurt the Americans deeply, both in terms of slain, captured, destroyed materiel and in lost territory. While it is true the Americans have made up for lost numbers, they have a long way to go to replace the destroyed trucks, tanks, planes, trains, missiles, helicopters and other equipment. And if they have more numbers, they have lost many trained troops. A large percentage of their new soldiery are Militiamen. They lack Army or Marine training.”

Mansfeld put his hands on the table. This was the moment. “If you will permit me to explain in greater detail, Excellency?”

There was a half-second hesitation before Kleist gave him a nod.

Mansfeld pulled out a memory stick and inserted it into the nearest computer slot. Then he pulled out a keyboard and began to type. A holographic map appeared in the center of the conference table.

“First,” Mansfeld said, “we need to examine the strategic overview. Despite the greatest battlefield victory in their history this winter—greatest in terms of enemy killed and captured—the U.S. is still in a critical situation. Our combined coalitions threaten them with a two-front war and with an even larger number of enemy soldiers than the previous year.”

“You’re badly mistaken if you think Chairman Hong will coordinate with us now,” Kleist said. “We have burned our bridges with him.”

Mansfeld shook his head. “We don’t need Hong’s cooperation, Excellency. China is too deeply engaged in North America to pull out. They need our help. That forces the Chinese into making predictable moves.”

“So you think,” Kleist said.

“No, Excellency, so I know.”

Kleist drummed his fingers on the table. “You are bold because you have nothing to lose.”

“Of course,” Mansfeld said, “but I am still speaking the truth. The fact of the Chinese army in Oklahoma is what counts for us this summer. Their presence is all we need.”

“Proceed,” Kleist said slowly.

Mansfeld manipulated the holo-image as he began to speak about the strategic situation.

He understood that this was the deadliest competition on the planet. Because of worsening worldwide glaciation, the PAA, the SAF and the GD wanted to carve up North American farmland in order to help feed their peoples. If the Chinese were too strong—as they had been originally—they would grab the lion’s share of North America. That was why Kleist had offered the Americans neutrality last year. The Chinese had been poised to grab just about everything, and Kleist couldn’t allow that. The GD needed to get its armies on the continent so it could grab the lion’s share of spoils.

“This is the critical point,” Mansfeld said, finishing his strategic overview. “The Chinese lack of offensive punch this year gives us a limited window of opportunity.”

Kleist laughed as a wolf might if watching a sick deer struggle through a snow bank. There was something shiny about his eyes, something almost lustful. “I’d expected to hear something stunning, General. Instead, you point to what infuriates me the most. Compared to last year, the Chinese are ailing. But they rearm quickly. By 2041, they will be ready again. The trouble is that because of Chinese weakness this year, the Americans can peel off enough forces to hem us in Quebec. They already have peeled off enough troops. We won’t be ready now until 2041. That invalidates our neutrality ploy, giving us nothing extra. You told me four months ago—”

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “If you would let me continue to show—”

“Bah,” Kleist said. “I’ve heard enough.”

Mansfeld knew a moment of doubt. Could he have miscalculated Kleist’s intelligence? He would have to speak fast.

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said, “Chinese weakness this summer will keep them from exploiting our coming victories this year.”

“Victories…?” Wessel muttered. “You’re mad to think we can achieve victories this year.”

“Not so,” Mansfeld said. “It isn’t madness but my ability to see what others cannot. That frightens the pedestrians among you.” He pointed to himself. “To those like me who see the possibilities, this is an exciting time.” As he spoke the last words, he stared at Kleist, challenging him with his eyes.

Wheels seemed to turn in the Chancellor’s mind. A crafty look stamped his features. “Tell me more about this limited window of opportunity?”

“Yes Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “Numbers and a strong defensive position have allowed the Chinese and Brazilians to entrench in safety. Meanwhile, new weapon systems make the long journey from mainland Asian factories, across the Pacific, through Northern Mexico and to the waiting soldiers. Given Asian production and shipping, this will bring their armies to offensive capabilities within a year.”

“I understand that,” Kleist said. “This—”

“Forgive me for interrupting you, Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “I will be brief and to the point. Before we speak about Quebec and our expeditionary force, we should first examine the American-Canadian situation.”

With the diamond of his wedding ring, Kleist stroked his chin. “Yes, continue.”

Mansfeld tapped the keyboard, changing the holographic chart. “Here is a quick rundown of American-Canadian military resources at present…” He proceeded to tell them.

“It’s worse than I realized,” Kleist said, after Mansfeld had finished talking. “We have—you have caused us to squander a golden opportunity.”

“On the surface it might appear so,” Mansfeld said. “The reality is quite different.”

“Excellency,” Field Marshal Wessel said. “We have a little over one million soldiers in Quebec.”

Mansfeld spoke for a time about HKs, drones, robotic equipment and GD quality.

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said, summing up. “Counting our forces as they are, not the mere number of flesh and blood soldiers and operators, and adding the Quebecers, we have nearly three million troops versus the 1,600,000 American-Canadian defenders. That being said, we also possess two critical advantages.”

“Those are what?” Kleist asked.

“The first is the German edge in terms of quality,” Mansfeld said, “our planes, drones, tanks, hovercraft, missiles, lasers, space forces, etc. In that sense, we have a preponderant advantage.”

“You spoke of two assets,” Kleist said.

“Yes, Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “Not to put too fine a point on it, our second great advantage is me.”

Chancellor Kleist sat back, and he smiled.

Field Marshal Wessel had been eyeing Kleist. He chuckled in a manner that said he understood how mad and arrogant General Mansfeld was. The other General Staff members dutifully chuckled in response.

They’re misreading the Chancellor, Mansfeld thought. Kleist is smiling because he appreciates the truth of what I’ve said. I believe he’s finally beginning to realize that I’m the only one who can give him what he wants.

“The Americans will have two million or more troops in place by the time you’re ready to move,” Kleist said. “What’s more, the Americans also have an advantage.”

“Of course,” Mansfeld said. “They have many veteran soldiers. I have not discounted that.”

Kleist drummed his fingers on the table. “So you’re a strategic asset, eh?”

“Yes, Excellency,” Mansfeld said.

Wessel slapped a meaty palm on the table. “This is an outrage. You are here to explain—”

Without looking at the old Field Marshal, Kleist raised a hand.

Wessel stopped speaking, and he looked helplessly at the Chancellor.

You are an obedient dog, Mansfeld thought, who heels well. Such as you do not produce world-winning strategies, and the Chancellor knows that.

Kleist ignored his white-haired Field Marshal. He kept his wolfish gaze on Mansfeld. “I presume you have a plan?”

“Yes, Excellency,” Mansfeld said.

“And you’ve brought it with you on that memory stick?”

“Yes, Excellency.”

“Give me the outline of the plan.”

Mansfeld tapped the keyboard, switching the holo-image.

This was the plan of a lifetime, and he knew it followed in the footsteps of the great German strategists. Since the rise of Second Reich under Otto von Bismarck, German military planners had fallen in love with the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C. There, Hannibal had encircled and destroyed one of the largest Roman hosts in history. Many had considered it the perfect battle. The Schlieffen Plan of World War I had used many precepts gleaned from Cannae, and it had almost given Germany the victory in the first months of the war. Erich von Manstein’s brilliant plan that gave Hitler France in 1940 also followed the Cannae model, as did the greatest battlefield victory on the Russian Front in 1941, when Germany captured 665,000 enemy soldiers in the Kiev Pocket.

Mansfeld spoke tersely and continued to tap the keys as he outlined the plan. During the first phase, he would blitz into Southern Ontario, driving for Detroit. In the second phase, he would amphibiously invade across Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, heading for the Atlantic Ocean.

As Mansfeld spoke, Kleist put his elbows on the table. The man’s eyes gleamed with appreciation.

General Mansfeld’s hands tingled with anticipation. This was the key to the invasion, the winning move: phase three, the amphibious invasion of New Jersey and New York City. The second hook launched from Cuba would meet the first hook from the Great Lakes. The two-pronged pincer move—the Cannae—would meet in mid-state New York and Northern Pennsylvania. They would trap the bulk of the million-man or larger American force holding New England, New York and New Jersey.

“I begin to perceive your plan, General,” Kleist said. “It is daring.”

“Chancellor,” Wessel said, “may I add a thought?”

Kleist studied the large Chief of Staff.

The man surprised Mansfeld, and maybe he surprised the Chancellor. Wessel held his ground and met Kleist’s stare. He shuffled his right foot, perhaps in nervousness, the sound noticeable in the quiet chamber.

“By all means,” the Chancellor said, “speak.”

“General Mansfeld’s plan strikes me as reckless,” Wessel said. “The American-Canadian defenders plan an attack against Quebec. You yourself have told us they long to strike. Presently, the American-Canadians have positioned 1,600,000 soldiers there. By mid-summer, they could have closer to three million. Against three million, the general’s plan will falter.”

“My plan calls for blitzkrieg strikes,” Mansfeld said. “It calls for boldness and risks, calculated risks. Let the Americans stuff more troops into the trap. That will make next year’s campaign that much easier for us.”

“No,” Wessel said. “Considering your plan—as the enemy—I would do the obvious.”

“Please,” Mansfeld said. “Tell us the obvious.”

Wessel pointed at the holomap hovering over the conference table. “Army Group C of Marshal Fromm must hold the strip of land south of the Saint Lawrence River. You’ve allotted them three siege armies, is that not correct?”

“I have,” Mansfeld said.

Wessel snorted like a bull. “Ninety percent of the people in Quebec live between Montreal and Quebec City. It is a pitifully short distance for the Americans to cross. All our supplies enter through the Saint Lawrence River. What if the Americans mine it?”

“We must prevent that,” Mansfeld said.

“Must, will…” Wessel shook his head. “You live in your ivory tower, planning dreams. I talk about reality. The Americans will mass against Fromm’s armies and shove them back through brute force if necessary. They will cut off your supply by capturing Montreal. That will bring a swift end to your campaign.”

“You said an interesting thing, sir,” Mansfeld said. “You said it is the obvious move.”

“Yes,” Wessel said, “it is obvious.”

“And that is why the Americans will fail,” Mansfeld said.

“You will build a defensive wall there?” Wessel asked. “Have you studied modern war? The Americans tried that in SoCal. The Chinese smashed through their defenses.”

Mansfeld shook his head. “I will build no wall.”

“Then how will you defend Montreal?” Wessel asked.

“By two methods,” Mansfeld said. “I will attack—”

“You will attack with Fromm’s siege armies?” Wessel asked. “Have you studied the terrain there or the number of Americans? It is clear they plan to attack us there as soon as the ground dries out.”

“Fromm will make a spoiling attack…after the Americans have stripped their defenses,” Mansfeld said.

“What?” Wessel asked. “That’s preposterous. You can’t know what the Americans will do four or five months from now.”

“I realize you cannot predict that,” Mansfeld said. “But I can, and I do here, right now. After the Americans strip their defenses, Fromm will attack with Kaiser HKs and under our air and space umbrella.”

“You truly plan an attack there?” Wessel asked.

“You’re not listening: I said a spoiling attack. It will give us ground, space. Then I will build a Kursk-like defense that will make the Russian buildup in 1943 seem like a lark.”

“No, no,” Wessel said, shaking his head. “You’re no prophet of God or Allah, or Apollo, either, for that matter. I believe you fail to grasp reality.”

“And you fail to grasp our qualitative superiority in equipment over the Americans,” Mansfeld said. “We are a generation ahead of them, in some cases, two generations. They will be like Iraqis to us. I have no doubts concerning our ability to hold them in place. The challenge will be in attacking and bagging a million Americans. In the end, we will do to them as they have done to the Chinese. And we will have conquered New England, New York and parts of Northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

Mansfeld turned to Kleist. “Then, Excellency, you will be able to begin your reorganization of American society. That is the lynchpin to our conquest of North America. I will give you the first victory and the American territory needed for your political genius to assert itself.”

Kleist nodded slowly, glancing from the Field Marshal to Mansfeld. “Perhaps…” He nodded firmly. “The meeting is temporarily adjourned. I wish to hear General Mansfeld’s ideas in detail. We will meet again…in five hours.”

Chief of Staff Wessel blinked stupidly. “But I thought…”

“The meeting is adjourned,” Kleist said. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, Excellency,” Wessel said.

Everyone rose as Kleist stood.

“Come, General Mansfeld, you will ride with me. There are a few matters that have made me very curious indeed.”

The churning in Mansfeld’s stomach had lessened. He had passed the first test, and it was likely the hardest one of all. Still, one needed to practice caution with Kleist. The man was an alpha wolf. For now, he should be safe. The great danger would be later. But on that subject, Mansfeld refused to even think about it until the proper moment presented itself.

His survival, his life, depended on doing that right.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

General Mansfeld opened his eyes. He let his arms drop and sat up, automatically reaching for the coffee cup. No. The coffee would be cold by now. He needed to pour himself a fresh cup.

With a grunt, Mansfeld stood. He moved to the computer map. Was Kleist more subtle than he realized?

Having just gone over the meeting four months ago, he would have to say yes. Kleist hadn’t tried to shoot down his ideas. The man was famous for his wit and scathing attacks. Instead, the Chancellor had been content to let Field Marshal Wessel do the questioning.

I was so absorbed with deflecting my death sentence that I failed to fully grasp the situation.

Kleist had put him on record. Yes, the Chancellor had teased the battle plan out of him before the General Staff.

Frowning, Mansfeld readjusted the computer map. He did it with three sharp taps and a quick widening of his thumb and index finger. He went over the last week of battle. What was he missing? What had Kleist seen four months ago?

Phase by phase, General Mansfeld mentally walked through his plan. He knew no plan fully survived contact with the enemy. There were always adjustments. But his plan…

Is Kleist counting upon the fog of war? Does he believe I’ll falter?

Mentally, Mansfeld added different variables to the mix and came up with his adjustments. No. He would annihilate the Americans. The Canadians were chaff now or at best a broken reed. He would hand the German Dominion New England, New York and northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The jaws of his trap would be too strong for whatever the Americans could bring to bear. And his military teeth—his formations—they were like iron. He would chew the Americans and swallow over a million soldiers into captivity.

Am I being paranoid? Perhaps Kleist isn’t as cunning as I believe.

Mansfeld shook his head. He couldn’t accept that. Kleist was cunning. Perhaps Kleist didn’t fully realize how brilliant he—Mansfeld—was. Far too many people in his life had underestimated him. Usually, that only happened once. Then it didn’t matter because he had already moved ahead of his detractors.

Toronto was the key for this phase. He would grind the massed Americans trapped in the city, using his iron teeth to devour them. If he were the Chinese, he’d have fought a slow battle of attrition and starvation of food and materiel. If he were Chinese, it would take time to cause such a large number of first-rate American and Canadian divisions to die or surrender. He didn’t have time for that. His timetable called for fast attacks. Thus, he aggressively used the robotic forces to kill and kill again, and shrink the Toronto Pocket.

What have I failed to discover about the Chancellor?

Tapping the computer map, Mansfeld decided he would read over Kleist’s manifesto again. It would be well to remember the Chancellor’s ultimate plan for North America. Perhaps there would be the hint. Kleist must surely believe he held something over his general’s head.

I must find it.

Mansfeld tapped the computer map one more time. Kleist was subtle, but he dealt with his most brilliant foe. Only one of them would survive this war. It was time to get out the manifesto and study it.


From The Life and Times of Chancellor Kleist, by Count von Hohenzollern:

The Political Solution to the North American Conquest

Chancellor Kleist believed he had discovered a “new” political theory of breathtaking scope and military utility. Briefly, it was internal autonomy for a homogenous ethnic or religious community, allowing a “people” their own laws and customs. Examples were legion: Bavaria for Bavarians, Normandy for Normans and Quebec for Quebecers.

Wedded to the larger Dominion, these semi-autonomous states supplied tax monies and soldiery hirelings for Kleist’s grander ambitions. He had already welded Europe and North Africa—minus Egypt—into a powerful military bloc. With the “peaceful” occupation of Quebec in 2039, he possessed the nucleus for a new subdivision of the North American continent.

Kleist recognized better than most the failed American ideal of the “Melting Pot.” Instead of a uniquely American identity, many considered their ethnic or religious heritage as trumping their U.S. citizenship. For instance, Aztlan separatists wished for union with Mexico or their own “Aztec” state carved out of California and Arizona. Many politically vocal African-Americans still desired reparations for past wrongs, while certain Muslim Americans insisted on Sharia law.

Disregarding the morality of the issue, Kleist’s political solution was simple, straightforward and revolutionary brilliant. As the ancient Assyrians and modern Soviets under Stalin had practiced, Kleist envisioned enforced resettlements: the creation of North American ethnic and religious enclaves or states. He would carve out a niche for the Sharia Law Muslim, for the fundamentalist Christian, for the Black, Aztlan and Alaskan separatists and for various conservative and liberal diehards of European extraction.

Thus, the German Dominion Invasion of 2040 created a crisis on two fronts for the American military. Firstly, the famous and physical Second Front that the Chinese and South American generals desperately desired. Secondly and possibly just as damaging, an inner, spiritual or loyalist fronts for many American citizens disgruntled with the present state of affairs.

In the PAA and SAF conquered regions of the Southwest, countless American guerilla and partisan forces rose up to contest the invaders. Kleist’s semi-autonomous enclaves—if given a chance to flourish like Quebec—potentially provided the GD with several advantages. One, the GD would need only a minimal military occupation force in the rear areas. Two, in their own self-interest, various North American groups might swell GD ranks with needed soldiers.

In this manner, Kleist hoped for a political-military conquest of North American instead of a purely combat-oriented solution.

TORONTO, ONTARIO

Paul Kavanagh sat in an underground bunker lit by long fluorescent tubes. Enemy shells shook the ground above and caused the tubes to flicker as bits of dust and debris rained from the ceiling. Some of the debris rattled lightly on the main table.

The colonels and general looked up at the lights. One of the colonels swore and rubbed at an eye hit by dust.

The shelling paused, and the shaking soon quit. For quite some time now, the Germans had pounded their positions day and night. The Toronto Pocket had shriveled since Paul fled from the HK. Few friendly forces came through to help them, few airdrops made it and only a trickle of sea transport at night. Essentially, they were on their own, trying to buy America the time to build an impenetrable line somewhere behind Toronto.

It had all happened so fast, and the Germans never stopped to rest and refit. With their drones, HKs and robotic troops, the GD soldiery didn’t need to stop like ordinary soldiers. The Germans just changed the controllers or added gas and munitions to the AI-run HKs, and their offensive continued.

The Marine general doing the talking now stood to his feet near his position at the middle of the table. The bunker down here stank of sweat, stale bread and gunpowder. The general put a helmet on his head. The straps dangled past his chin, and he gazed at his colonels.

The blocky Marine general—he was five-seven—had a patch over his right eye and a bandage on his right cheek. He believed in leading from the front and he had paid for it with his injuries. The man still wore a combat vest and kept a holstered .45 on his hip. Although he was a Marine, not all the watching, listening colonels were. Nor were they all Americans: two of the colonels were Canadians.

The Marine general—his name was Len Zelazny—inhaled through his nose, making his nostrils flare. The man looked tired but undefeated. He had been at Colorado this winter and had helped crush the PAA Third Front. He knew what it was like to win.

“The Germans don’t fight fair,” Zelazny growled. “They send robots at us instead of facing us themselves. I say they’re smart to do that, because we would kick their Kraut asses otherwise. Okay. That’s the way it is. You don’t cry over spilt milk but you can at least point it out.”

He quit talking for a moment and breathed in and out. Anger shone in his brown eye. He balled his hands into fists and his right struck the table.

“I don’t have to tell you gentlemen that the Krauts have been slaughtering us. I guess it’s payback from Word War Two when Patton stomped the shit out of them. Now they’ve come here to play in our sandbox. Well, we’re good and trapped in this city. I know you men understand that. There’s no getting out of this one, right?”

Several of the colonels nodded. They looked tired and defeated. Every division, every battalion and company had taken a horrible pounding and bloodletting. It had come as a rude shock. They had arrived from the US Strategic Reserve, well, a few had originated from New England, and driven here into Canada in order to stop the Germans cold. They hadn’t expected death for everyone.

“Their tank drop,” Zelazny said, “no one expected it. No one figured the GD hovercraft could keep the enemy divisions supplied the way they have. Well, it’s time for us to do something unexpected to the Krauts instead of just taking it all the time.”

A few of the grim-eyed colonels perked up.

From where he sat in the back, Paul Kavanagh forced his eyes open. He’d been falling asleep. He’d been running messages for the past few days. When had he starting doing that, three days ago? Yeah, three days ago Zelazny had finally understood that the Germans intercepted every radio message he sent out. So Zelazny had gone back to basics and used runners. Three days of endless, back and forth running had exhausted Paul. Sitting here felt good but it made his eyelids heavy.

Standing at the middle of the table, Len Zelazny raised his voice so even Paul heard him clearly. “The flesh and blood Krauts don’t want to get dirty this war. They’ve been rich too long and standing at the top of their heap for decades. Most of them are momma’s boys and couldn’t stand up to a bareknuckle brawl.”

“They don’t need to,” a colonel said.

Zelazny pointed a dirty finger at the colonel. “That’s where you’re wrong, Brad. Maybe we could break out of here if we poured everything into one spot. Well, I don’t mean that. The Krauts are smart. They always have been at war. I’ll tell you want I suspect. They’ve left one special weak spot for us. The old Mongols of Genghis Khan used to do that. The Mongols never totally surrounded a foe, but gave him a gauntlet to freedom. Once those beaten foes rode for and through the gauntlet, the Mongol horse-archers poured arrows by the tens of thousands, slaughtering the running enemy.”

Zelazny eyed the colonels. “I think that’s what the Germans have done here. We could maybe break a small corridor open, but we sure as Hell couldn’t all slither through. We’d lose all our heavy equipment and die by the tens of thousands. No. I don’t plan on running, and I’m not just going to stay and take it.” He scratched at the eye patch. “I don’t like the idea of sitting in these rat holes waiting for Krauts and Frogs to come and collect us.”

Colonels nodded.

“I’ve been done some hard thinking,” Zelazny said. “I’ve tried to dredge up some advantage we have over the GD.”

“They have better tanks, better planes, better—”

“Stow it, Tom,” Zelazny said. “I don’t want to hear that right now. I’m talking about our strengths, not theirs.”

A thin colonel with terribly red eyes nodded.

Zelazny cleared his throat, and he pointed his dirty finger again. This time he pointed at Paul Kavanagh.

Colonels made rustling noises as they turned to look at Paul.

Realizing he was the object of scrutiny, Paul sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to wake up.

“Do you mean we’re supposed to look at that Marine?” a colonel asked.

“He’s Marine Recon, an LRSU man,” Zelazny said. “We have a good number of his kind here. I don’t just mean recon specialists, but elite soldiers used to working alone and often behind enemy lines.”

“I don’t get it,” the red-eyed colonel said. “Are you saying they can help us break out of Toronto?”

“I already told you,” Zelazny said. “There is no breaking out for us.”

“Is that right?” a small Canadian colonel asked Paul. As he spoke, the man’s left cheek twitched. It happened twice. “You couldn’t slip away?”

Paul glanced at Zelazny.

“Go on, son,” Zelazny said. “Tell him what you believe. I’m interested in hearing it too.”

“Sir,” Paul said. He paused, thinking about it. Then he decided to speak his mind. “I could slip away. Don’t know if I could take many men with me. It wouldn’t be like retreating with conventional troops. Regular soldiers wouldn’t know what to do. But I and a few others could get back to our lines easy enough. Is that what you’re thinking, sir?”

“No,” Zelazny said, with a scowl.

Paul shrugged. He hadn’t thought so, but he’d hoped for a second. He didn’t much like the idea of dying here. That went against the oath.

The colonels stared back at Len Zelazny. They looked confused, but he had their attention.

“The Krauts are invading our country,” Zelazny said, “and the Japanese are getting their shot at us again as they soldier under the Chinese. This is a replay of World War II, but with America on the receiving end. During the War in the Pacific, the Japanese faced elimination like this on more than one occasion. The officers usually sharpened their samurai swords and led their men in banzai charges against their foes.”

“I’ve read about those,” the red-eyed colonel said. “They were suicide charges against Marines and U.S. Army soldiers. Our boys back then cut them down. The Japanese would have lasted longer defending. I did read it worked sometimes against the Chinese of that era.”

“That’s right,” Zelazny said.

“You’re saying it’s time to suicide against the Germans?” another colonel asked.

“Not on your life,” Zelazny said. “Americans aren’t suicide soldier types.”

“What about the Alamo?” a colonel asked.

“It wasn’t the same thing,” Zelazny said. “But at least you men are thinking now. I like that. But forget about suicidal banzai charges. No. I have something else in mind and men like Kavanagh are the key ingredient. Now, we are going to mount a few attacks and surprise the Krauts.”

“That’s banzai charges,” the red-eyed colonel said.

“Maybe on the surface it is,” Zelazny said. “Our reason for the attacks is different, much different from what the Japanese did back then. Now you heard the Recon Marine. He said he could slip back home. I believe him. If you knew his record, you’d believe him, too. That got me to thinking. If Kavanagh could slip away—where the Germans are watching for us to do exactly that—couldn’t Kavanagh also slip forward, too?”

“I don’t get it?” the red-eyed colonel said. “What are you suggesting?”

“That we mount a full assault,” Zelazny said. “We do it for two reasons. The first is to throw the enemy off his timetable. Let him wonder about us and worry. You can be sure the Krauts aren’t going to be expecting us to attack. Now this isn’t for dying gloriously or any other such bullshit as that. The glory in war is in killing the other guy and making him die for his country, not us dying for ours. We attack. The Germans defend, and during the assault—all along the line, mind you—men like Kavanagh quietly slip through the enemy line. They crawl, I don’t know, for a while anyway—for as far as they need to. Finally, these killers get behind the GD drones, HKs and robotic machines. They reach flesh and blood Krauts, Frogs and Limy bastards for a change. That’s when they pull out their knives, their submachine guns, and teach these momma’s boys what it’s like facing an American soldier.”

“It will be an old-time Apache raid,” a colonel said.

“For Kavanagh and the others,” a colonel said. “What happens to us, sir?”

Zelazny nodded, and he looked weary again. “After the assault—don’t kid yourselves. This attack is going to cost us dearly. Afterward, though, we fall back to our prepared defenses. There, we dig in and wait for the machines to dig us out. We die, I suppose, but we make them take a long time doing it. And we take as many of those things as we can with us.”

The colonels stared at Marine General Zelazny. A few grunted in agreement. The others remained silent.

“Well, you’re U.S. officers and our fellow Canadians,” Zelazny said. “So let’s hear your ideas. It’s going to be our last offensive plan. We want to make sure it works the best it possibly can.”

As the colonels and General Zelazny began to work out the details, Paul Kavanagh thought about it. He was bone-weary and just wanted to sleep. His eyes closed on their own accord. This was probably as good as place as any to grab some shuteye. It was a fancy plan, a grasping, final idea. Would it work?

Before Paul could decide, he fell asleep where he sat. For all he knew, this would be the last nap in this life. When he woke up, it would be grinding effort likely until he was dead.

TOPEKA, KANSAS

Jake Higgins stood before a three-person Militia tribunal. It had been several days since his bender and his head no longer pounded from a hangover. His eyes had cleared and they were no longer bloodshot. His dry mouth tasted bitter, and he couldn’t believe the clothes they’d given him.

He had baggy pants and no belt. He had to grab his trousers in the front to keep them from falling down to his ankles. It made him feel foolish and ridiculous. Worse, he knew they’d planned this in order to diminish him. First, they worked to break a person’s spirit. Then they taught the person how to think. Their techniques were tried and true.

Jake stood before three judges who sat on a platform higher than he was, forcing him to look up. It was no doubt another psychological ploy. Each judge wore a uniform, two men and a woman. The woman wore a Detention Center suit of white with brown stripes. She was large, with red hair piled on her head and she sat between the two men. She was in charge, a Public Safety Monitor, First Class. The men were majors in the Militia.

The woman looked down her nose at Jake. She had a mole on the left nostril, and no doubt, hair sprouted from the mole.

He found her thoroughly despicable, even though he’d repeatedly told himself while sitting in his cell that he needed to talk softly today. A soft answer turns away wrath. He’d heard that from somewhere, but couldn’t place the saying’s origin.

“Humph,” the Public Safety monitor said. She scanned an e-reader. “Disorderly and drunken conduct in a—” She glanced at the leftward major, handing him the e-reader. “Am I reading this correctly?” she asked the major. “The offender committed these disloyalties in a strip bar?”

The pudgy major didn’t take the e-reader, but leaned over, scanning the words in a bored manner. “Oh yes, the offender was in a strip bar. You are correct.”

“Humph,” the Public Safety monitor said. “I find that disgusting.” She glared down at Jake. “You no doubt frequent these places often.”

“Uh, no,” Jake said. “I—”

“Silence!” the monitor said, banging a gavel on a block, making the block jump. She continued scanning the e-reader. Her head swayed back and her eyes widened. Silently, she pushed the e-reader toward the same pudgy major as before.

His pupils went back and forth. His head jerked back sharply and he eyed Jake anew. “Is this correct?”

“I don’t know what you’re reading,” Jake said.

“I can’t see how anyone could possibly speak such treasonous trash as I’m reading here,” the monitor said. “Do you realize we are at war with three different power blocs?” she asked Jake.

“I do, yes,” he said.

“The world pours in against us,” the woman said. “We have our backs against the wall and, and—you have the impudence to spout this garbage?”

“First,” Jake said, in a reasonable tone. “I was extremely drunk.”

“I cannot believe this,” the monitor said. “Your kind wallows in all kinds of deviancy. Drunkenness, lewdness, sedition—I imagine it’s a long list with you.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” Jake said. “I’m the furthest thing from seditious. Have you looked at my combat record lately? I was at Denver this winter.”

The woman glanced at the second major, a thin man with compressed lips. “Is this true?” she asked.

“I think there’s a broader question,” the man replied. “Is his whereabouts this winter germane to what he spouted in the strip bar?”

“Yeah it’s germane,” Jake said. “I’ve spilled blood for America. If anyone…” His voice quieted and he stopped speaking.

The woman raised bushy eyebrows. “It appears you have to think carefully before answering my questions. To my mind, that shows a guilty conscience.”

“No,” Jake said.

“He’s argumentative,” the pudgy major said, the one on her left.

“I cannot believe this,” the monitor said, as she continued reading. “You urinated on your Militia card.”

“No,” Jake said.

The woman looked up with astonishment. “Do you dispute the facts?” she asked.

“Well…not exactly,” Jake said. “I pissed on the card, yeah.”

The woman stiffened in outrage.

“I-I mean urinated,” Jake said. “I urinated on it.”

“So you admit to this lewdness?” she asked.

“You have to understand,” Jake said. “I have the highest respect for the Militia. My best friends are in it. You should call them. They can tell you about my combat record.”

“Do you notice what he’s doing?” the pudgy major asked the woman.

She shook her head.

“He’s trying to tell us how to run our tribunal.”

“You’re right,” the woman said. “It’s seditious arrogance.”

“Look, the three of you are telling me how to run my life,” Jake said. “The least I can do is to defend myself. You want to hear the truth, don’t you?”

“You really think you can defend your heinous actions?” the woman asked.

“Getting drunk is heinous?” Jake asked, starting to get angry.

“Don’t play your little games with me, young man,” the woman said. “Drunkenness is moral weakness. I do not excuse it. But in this instance I mean showing grave disrespect to the Militia by urinating on your ID card.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Jake said. “I wasn’t pissing—I wasn’t urinating on the card. Don’t you listen?”

The monitor’s eyes narrowed. “If you weren’t urinating on the card, what were you urinating on?”

Jake opened his mouth to tell her, and he paused.

“He’s a schemer,” the pudgy major said. “Look how he has to think about what he’s going to say. A man telling the truth just says it and lets the consequences fall where they may.”

“All right,” Jake said. “You want me to say it? I pissed on the Director of Homeland Security. Is that such a sin? In case you haven’t noticed, the man has enforced some highly suspect laws.”

The three members of the tribunal traded glances with each other.

“What are his Dentition Center records?” the thin major finally asked.

The monitor clicked her e-reader, searching. Finally, she read for a time. Brusquely, she handed the device to the pudgy major. He glanced without touching it, and he traded looks with the larger monitor.

“Do we need to see any more?” she asked the others.

“I’ve fought for America,” Jake said. “I’ve spilled my blood more times than I can count? What have you three done to stop the invaders?”

The monitor picked up the gavel and banged it several times. “You are under investigation, not us.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about,” Jake said, as his fingers curled around the fabric of his trousers. Why had them given him such baggy pants? “I’m fighting my heart out on the front lines and you three are hiding back here stealing my freedoms. What a joke.”

“I do not care for your tone or for your treasonous words, young man,” the woman said.

“I bet you don’t,” Jake said. “Tyrants hate an honest man.”

The woman banged the gavel. “I do not need to hear any more. You are hereby sentenced to a penal battalion.”

“Is that another detention battalion?” Jake asked.

“I thought I was clear,” the woman said. “You are headed to a penal battalion.”

“Is that a labor—?”

“You have lost your right to question me,” the woman said. “Perhaps if you fight hard enough, you can regain your American citizenship someday. These seditious acts and words—” She shook her head, making her short bangs swish over her forehead. “I believe one such as you would better serve us as fish food. But the hour is dark and America uses everyone, even you disloyalists.”

While clutching his pants, Jake looked up at her. He felt helpless, and he despised the feeling. He should have stayed with his friends in the bar. If he had… He’d needed to drown his thoughts about killing, and he had those bitter emotions because he’d already fought hard to defend his country. This was wrong, just dead wrong. His stomach churned. He didn’t know what to do. This was just so wrong.

“You’re leaving for New England this evening,” the woman was saying. “There, you will join a penal battalion. Fight hard, Mr. Higgins, and perhaps you can gain your country’s forgiveness.”

“How about the country gains my forgiveness for what it’s done to me?” he said under his breath.

“What was that?” the monitor asked. “Do you have some final word for the court?”

Jake had some words all right, but he refrained from saying them. He was in deep enough. A penal battalion…that sounded ominous.

-4- Annihilation

From Tank Wars, by B.K. Laumer III:

Electronic Warfare

In the opening days and weeks of the war, the German Dominion had a decisive advantage in EW equipment and practice. The heavy GD dependence on drones, UAVs and droids, and on the AI-run Kaisers, demanded a superior communication network. The GD military needed the electronic link so their operators could control their vehicles and so the commanders could order and monitor what the semi-independent AI tanks were doing.

GD High Command believed in the old adage: a good offense was a good defense. Therefore, they practiced intense ESM (electronic surveillance measures). The critical component to this was keeping track of the Canadian and American electronic devices on and near the battlefield. Because of this, the GD EW services kept a continuously updated common operating picture of Allied aircraft, ships, army units and ground vehicles. Every vehicle possessed a particular electronic signature. These signatures the GD specialists found and watched better than their Allied counterparts did theirs. ESM warfare included picking up enemy transmissions. The key advantage lay in the obvious truism: once one knew how the enemy equipment operated, one could jam or deceive that equipment.

The GD Expeditionary Force had more and better active and passive sensors and smarter and quicker ECD (electronic control devices). An example of the latter was the GD Sleeper mine, artillery-fired before advancing or behind retreating enemy vehicles. The Sleeper mine was sensor-controlled and contained powerful microprocessors. Depending on the setting, the Sleeper mine waited until a certain number of vehicles passed before popping up to attack. The GD automated devices worked with greater precision and reliability than American automated devices of similar types.

Lastly, GD ECM (electronic countermeasures) were better and more powerful than the American measures. Jamming enemy equipment at the right frequency was the most obvious form of ECM.

Both sides also used ECCM (electronic counter countermeasures) and EDM (electronic deception measures). One form of ECCM was to crank up the transmitter and burn through enemy jamming. The last, EDM, could involve setting up a transmitter to fool the enemy by simulating the presence of a unit of where it was not.

All together, these advantages proved decisive for the GD in the race to the Great Lakes. German Dominion EW specialists gained target acquisition through sensors, ESM and signal processing identity, pinpointing the activity, strength and position of enemy units. This gave the GD military the most lucrative targets at the earliest opportunity.

The GD EW specialists worked hard to disrupt enemy command, control and communication, causing American and Canadian commanders to lose track and control of their vehicles or men.

The last offensive component to electronic warfare came from deception. Particularly in the first weeks, EDM helped to deceive the North American soldiers about true GD intentions. When the GD hammer fell, it often came as a grim surprise and shock to the Allied forces.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

There were voices. Then metal clacked from outside, a latch probably. The railroad car’s side door squealed open on rusty sprockets.

Jake Higgins blinked at the bright light. He sat up, pushing aside the worn Army jacket he’d used as a blanket. A rolled up shirt had been his pillow and the hard railroad car floor his bed. Other Militia detainees raised their heads or rolled onto one of their elbows to see what was going on. Thirty of them were in here with Jake: dirty, tired and hungry men.

It stank in the railroad car and several buckets to the sides held last night’s feces. None of them had been out of the car for over twenty-four hours.

“Outside!” a muscled, Militia Detention Guard, or MDG, sergeant shouted.

The man must have used steroids just as Jake’s friend in Denver, the lieutenant, once had. The sergeant had an extraordinarily thick neck and sloping shoulders. He wore a white helmet with the letters “MDG” stamped on the front. The man had heavy features to match his neck, making him a bull with flaring nostrils. Jake wouldn’t have been surprised to see a ring in the nose. The sergeant had a carbine slung on his left shoulder and a nightstick dangling from a thick black police belt. Other MDG personnel waited for the threadbare detainees. The white-helmeted men fanned out in a semicircle behind the first sergeant.

He eyed the detainees with distain, with a sneer twisting his practically lipless mouth. Then he said in a loud voice, “Get your sorry asses out here before we drag them out.”

The detainees stood, as did Jake, and they moved toward the door. Jake put on his coat and waited his turn. He’d been traveling by railroad car like an old-time hobo. At each stop, another political detainee or two joined the growing throng. They ate crusts of bread, drank bottled water and used the outdoors when they could to relieve themselves. This was unbelievable treatment, as if they were Russian POWs during WWII.

“Get out,” another MDG snarled at Jake.

“Out!” the muscled sergeant shouted.

Jake jumped down, and he landed hard on gravel. There must have been hundreds of various railroad tracks here. There were hundreds of railroad cars and engines waiting or being loaded or unloaded, and there were long sheds everywhere and sounds of busy forklifts revving.

Jake felt a hand grab his collar, heave, and he faced the sergeant with the thick neck.

“A double troublemaker, huh?” the sergeant asked.

Jake shook his head.

The sergeant must not have liked that or not liked something about Jake. The man let go of the collar, slid the carbine from his shoulder, grabbed it two-handed and slammed the butt hard against Jake’s gut.

The surprise blow caught Jake hard. His air whooshed out and pain blossomed. His knees unhinged on their own accord and he dropped, slamming down onto his shins. He doubled over as he clutched his stomach in agony. What a bastard.

The sergeant gripped Jake’s hair and forced his head back. The man shoved his own face near and blew bad breath on Jake on he spoke:

“You look at me wrong, you piss wrong, I’ll stomp you flat. You’re a filthy traitor, and I hate traitors, and that means I hate you.”

Jake hurt too much to reply, but this was his first meeting with MDG Sergeant Dan Franks. They were destined to spend much time together.

“Get up,” the sergeant said.

While clutching his gut, Jake struggled to his feet, shuffling over gravel to join the others. The rest of the MDGs marshaled the detainees into a physical training formation. Apparently, the sergeants didn’t care if they formed up in the middle of the famous Chicago rail yards. One of the detention people began taking roll call.

When the man finished, the muscled sergeant who had struck Jake marched in front of the group.

“Look at you sorry traitors,” the sergeant said, in his sneering voice. He had re-slung the carbine tight over his right shoulder. He faced them with his legs spread in an arrogant stance.

“I’m Sergeant Dan Franks!” he roared. “I’m the Militia Detention Guard who is going to make sure each one of you fights and dies for the greatest country in the world. For you worthless dregs that don’t know: that’s the United States of America. It seems you dissidents can’t ever get it right. Well, guess what. We’re not in college now with your communist professors to hold your faggot hand. No, sir, you’re down here with us regular Americans who actually love our country.”

“I love it, too,” one of the detainees said.

Sergeant Franks stopped speaking, with shock on his face. He scowled, and he zeroed in on the speaker. “Bring that lying piece of filth to me,” Franks said.

Jake kept himself from looking directly at the sergeant. There was something wrong with the man’s eyes. They were too close set, and they were too shiny. Was the man high or drunk? Or did Franks get off on pushing others around? Maybe the answer was yes to both.

I can’t believe this is happening to me. When am I going to learn to keep my mouth shut?

Two MDGs hustled a skinny man to Franks. The detainee wore a threadbare coat and nearly useless tennis shoes. The man looked to be thirty-five, but could have been younger. He had a three days growth of beard and sad, tired eyes.

“Did you say something to me, maggot?” the sergeant asked the man.

The skinny detainee looked around.

With a powerful grip, Franks grabbed the man’s face, with his thick fingers tightening against the cheeks. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, Detainee. That’s what an American does: he meets another man’s eyes.”

The detainee swallowed hard. Maybe he was finally getting it in his mind that he was in trouble. He stared at Franks, and those shiny eyes must have frightened him. The detainee quickly lowered his gaze.

“I asked you a question, maggot,” Franks said. “Did you say something before?”

“Yes, sir—”

Crack! Franks let go of the detainee’s face and slapped him, leaving an angry red welt. “Pay attention, you traitorous scum. I’m not an officer. I’m a sergeant. Besides, I don’t want a dickhead piece of filth like you calling me sir. I feel soiled by it.”

“Yes…okay,” the detainee said.

“Are you afraid?” Franks asked.

Jake knew he shouldn’t say anything. He told himself to keep quiet. He could see the skinny man was a youth, someone younger than he was. The youth didn’t seem as if he’d ever been in the military or the militia before. The kid was pure terrified. The slap in the face must have capped it for him. Most people were shocked the first time real world brutality struck them.

“I asked you if you’re afraid,” Franks shouted.

“Yeah,” Jake said. “He’s afraid. Are you satisfied?”

For a moment, Sergeant Franks froze, perhaps out of amazement. Ever so slowly, he turned from the detainee and to Jake.

While looking at Jake, Franks asked, “Who spoke to me just now.”

Jake knew he should shut up. He realized he’d made a bad mistake. He was weary, hungry and fear kept tugging for his attention. He was also pissed off, royally angry for the rifle butt in the gut a minute ago. He knew he shouldn’t, but Jake raised his right hand.

Franks glanced at another MDG. “It looks like we have a funny man among us, Leary.” Facing Jake, Franks said, “Step out here with me, funnyman.”

Jake marched to the head of the formation and then two steps farther. He held himself at attention and kept his eyes forward. He felt Sergeant Franks move toward him. He heard the crunch of gravel, and his stomach throbbed. He didn’t want to get struck in the gut again, but it didn’t matter what he wanted. The rifle butt smashed him in the same place as before. Jake groaned, and he crumpled to his knees.

“Do you feel funny now?” Franks asked, the sergeant looming over him.

Jake shook his head.

“Speak up. I can’t hear you, funnyman.”

It came to Jake that maybe the MDGs could beat a few of the detainees to death. According to the tribunal, he didn’t have any American rights left. He was a penal detainee, a supposed traitor to his country. Jake saw himself as one of the last real patriots, a man who tried to speak truth to power. The Detention people would hate someone like him. The sergeant had already told Jake he hated him. Maybe this was it. Maybe he was about to die. Jake wanted to act tough, but his stomach hurt and the fear of death…

“I do not feel funny, Sergeant Franks,” Jake said.

Franks stared down at him, finally saying, “I guess you been in before, huh?”

“I have, Sergeant Franks.” Jake could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath, not a lot, but it was there.

“Well you know what. I don’t care two cents about that. You’re in my penal platoon and you’re going to do things my way. There’s an emergency going on, and our country needs warm bodies to charge the damn Germans. I’m guessing someone upstairs will actually give punks like you an M16. It doesn’t really matter, one way or another. You’ll probably piss yourself the first time a Kraut shows his face. Isn’t that right, you piece of filth?”

“No, Sergeant Franks,” Jake said. “I want to fight for my country.”

The sergeant didn’t say anything, and finally, Jake dared to look up. He saw Franks staring down at him, sneering.

Franks hawked phlegm in this throat, gathered it and spit in Jake’s face.

Jake should have known better. Lately, he’d received hard life-lessons on the advantage of keeping one’s cool. He should have kept his cool now. Instead, something snapped in him. Militia Detention people had screwed him over just one too many times. Now this bully of a sergeant spit in his face. Jake didn’t roar with rage. He simply moved faster than Sergeant Franks must have expected. His nearly ruptured stomach didn’t slow Jake any, either. Jake moved like a leopard, from his knees, scrambling to his feet and tackling the MDG by the knees.

Jake didn’t realize what he was doing until he had Sergeant Dan Franks on his back, slammed the man’s helmeted head against a railroad tie twice and then he whaled three solid shots to the sergeant’s face. Madness and rage reigned during those few seconds. None of the other MDGs had moved by then, either. On his own, Jake stopped the whaling, and he jumped off Franks, took two steps back and stood at attention.

Franks groaned, and he raised his head, with blood trickling down his nose. Several of the other MDGs drew batons from their belts, and they approached Jake with death on their faces.

Jake saw them approaching. He trembled from rage, and he silently berated himself for having fallen into their trap. Maybe he should have just tried to kill Franks. But he didn’t hate the man, as such. He hated the system that gave men like Franks the room to haze those weaker than him.

Before the first MDG reached him, before Jake went berserk and went down fighting, a sharp whistle blasted through the air.

Jake turned his head. The sergeants faced the same direction as he did. After a half second, they warily lowered their batons.

A Militia Detention lieutenant climbed out of a jeep. He strode to them, glancing at the MDGs with their batons and glancing at Sergeant Franks with his bloody nose. Finally, his gaze locked onto Jake.

The lieutenant kept walking at Jake, and he no longer glanced at the MDGs. They quietly began to holster their batons and stand at attention.

The lieutenant reached Jake, and he asked, “Did you do that to him?”

The lieutenant was regular-sized, had a longish neck, sandy-colored hair and freckles across his nose. He looked like a Staples salesman or a computer programmer.

“Yes, sir,” Jake said.

“Why would you attack one of my MDGs?” the lieutenant asked.

“He spit in my face, sir,” Jake said.

The lieutenant blinked as he took that in. He didn’t turn to ask the MDGs if it was true. Obviously, if it were true, they would lie about it. Everyone knew that, even this young, geeky lieutenant.

“An American doesn’t take an insult like that, sir,” Jake explained. “He fights back. He uses his fists. At least, that’s what my father taught me.”

“And who might your father be?” the lieutenant asked.

“Colonel Higgins, sir, of the Behemoth Regiment. He won the Medal of Honor in Alaska in 2032.”

“What’s Colonel Higgins’s son doing in a penal battalion?” the lieutenant asked.

Here it was. Here was the question Jake had been asking himself for some time. His mind moved at laser speed. He had been that close to death. Likely, the sergeants were going to see him dead, one way or another. He had to outwit them. One thing he’d learned so far: they all believed he was a traitor, and likely, nothing he said would change their opinion of him. Therefore, he needed to work within the limits they would accept.

“Sir,” Jake said, “Colonel Higgins’s son is learning some hard lessons.”

“Give me a for-instance,” the lieutenant said.

“I’m learning that privilege doesn’t mean anything when it comes to my country,” Jake said. “All that counts is action.”

“What does that mean?” the lieutenant asked.

“That I can’t rest on my father’s laurels,” Jake said. “I have to prove my love for America by my own actions.”

Do you love America?” the lieutenant asked in a quiet voice.

“Yes, sir, I do,” Jake said. “But I’ve gone about it the wrong way. If I can, sir, I want to hurt the enemies who have come here to rape and steal from us.”

“Why are you here?” the lieutenant asked.

“Because I had a bad attitude before, sir,” Jake said. “I said some things that no one should ever say.”

“What kind of things?”

“I spoke against the Director of Homeland Security.” Jake shook his head. Everything I said was true. You’re all jackbooted thugs, and you hate people speaking their minds. “I don’t think I understood how we have to all pull together for the good of the country. We can’t—I can’t expect to rest on the privilege of being a war-hero’s son.”

“Hmm,” the lieutenant said. He turned to Sergeant Franks. “Did you hear that? He’s a war-hero’s son. No wonder he kicked your butt so easily.” The lieutenant’s gaze took in the other MDGs. “I want Jake Higgins to survive training. If he can thrash Sergeant Franks like that, imagine what he can do to the Germans.”

“Sir,” Franks said.

The lieutenant held up a hand. “I want him to survive our short training schedule. Have I made myself clear, Sergeant?”

The muscled man hesitated, but he finally said, “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now carry on.” The lieutenant surveyed the lined-up men once, glanced again at Jake and then strode to his jeep, kicking up gravel at each step. One stone struck the vehicle a second before the lieutenant opened the door and slid in, leaving them in another crunch of gravel.

Sergeant Dan Franks wiped his bloody nose. Then he marched in front of Jake. Every eye was on them. Franks halted an inch from Jake, staring at him from the side.

Jake didn’t move. He waited to see whether he would live or die.

“This isn’t over,” Franks whispered.

Jake said nothing, as there was nothing to say to that.

“I obey orders,” Franks whispered. “You’re going to survive training, unless you do something really stupid. But I wouldn’t hold too tightly to your chances of surviving combat.”

Jake still said nothing.

“Get back in formation,” Franks said.

Jake marched to his spot, and the MDG who had taken roll call before began their calisthenics soon thereafter. It lasted for three hours. Only after five detainees fainted did Franks call a halt for food and water, a chance to go to the latrines and then a return into the railroad car. They were on their way east to the war, but that’s all any of the detainees knew, other than that only a few of them would survive the coming battles.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna Chen sat up late with the President and with General Alan in the Oval Office.

As could be expected, David Sims looked much different in person than he did on TV. The propaganda team had made him seem stern and collected on the tube, an older uncle that everyone could trust. In person, the President tended toward the heavier side, with most of his extra weight in his gut. He wore a well-tailored suit jacket that hid the extent of his stomach, but he’d gained another seven pounds since the GD invasion. Wispy blond hair barely covered his bald spot in front. He had pale blue eyes that scanned a report as he moved back and forth on his rocking chair. It creaked abominably.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs—General Alan—was gaunt with sunken cheeks. He took off black-rimmed glasses and rubbed his eyes. Putting them back on, the general took a sheaf of papers from the sofa he sat on and began paging through them.

Like the other two, Anna read reports on various secret projects. They searched for ideas, something to help America stem the tide of GD conquest. A thing like this was really better left to experts. Those experts could tell them about the best projects during a briefing. In Anna’s opinion, the President needed to save his mental energy in order to remain sharp. That way he could okay the right decisions and nix the bad ones, not waste his precious time with these rabbit-hole searches.

Anna had told him so many times before. But since David had once been a Joint Forces Commander in Alaska, he liked to get his hands dirty in the military details. Maybe this was a form of relaxation. Lord knew he needed it.

Anna helped, or she tried to help tonight. She was distracted as she read. She kept wondering if she should tell the President about Max Harold. Of course, she should. But wouldn’t that be playing into the director’s hands? To keep silent, though, might be worse.

If David can’t handle the truth, maybe he should step down. Was that a treasonous thought? Or did it show she loved him more than his position, or hers, for that matter?

Anna lowered her reading device and stared out of a window into the darkness. The city lights shined in the background. A blinking red light showed one of the antiair blimps over the city. How long until the Germans neared DC? A foreign power hadn’t occupied the city since the War of 1812. The British had burned the Capitol buildings then. Would the Germans reach here almost 250 years later?

I have to tell him. I should have already told him. Now the question was: should she wait until Alan left or would it better if the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs heard this?

“What’s this?” the President asked.

Anna looked over from her chair and General Alan looked up from the sofa.

The President had stopped rocking and held up his reading device. “Do you know anything about the THOR Project?” he asked Alan.

Gaunt General Alan blushed, and he nodded, almost reluctantly.

That’s an odd response, Anna thought.

“It’s says here this thing is a space weapon,” the President said. “I didn’t know we had any space weapons left.”

“We don’t exactly have one, sir,” Alan said, seeming to choose his words with care. “The THOR Project is still in the experimental stage, the early phase of testing.”

“So this is new?” the President asked.

“It’s an old idea that’s never been implemented before,” Alan said. “Otherwise, yes, it’s new.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

Anna glanced at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. She wasn’t sure, but his body language, the way his face seemed blank like a good poker player… Had Alan wanted to keep the project under wraps for now? If so, why would he keep it secret from David?

“Explain it to me,” the President was saying. “I’m interested. It says here the missiles will strike from space, literally like lightning from Thor’s hammer. That can’t be correct, can it?”

Alan cleared his throat. “In essence, sir, the missiles of the project act in a simple manner.” He frowned. “First, before I tell you any more, you should know that the missiles in question are the size of crowbars.”

The President pursed his lips. “What kind of warhead are we talking about?”

“None, sir,” Alan said. “The object is the warhead.”

“You’d better explain that one. It’s beginning not to sound like much of a missile to me.”

“Mr. President, I wouldn’t place much hope in these THOR—”

“Just tell me how this thing is supposed to work,” the President said, with the hint of an edge to his voice. “I’ve never heard about the project and I’m curious, very curious, in fact.”

Alan nodded, and he glanced upward. He did it as if searching for the answer, the extreme tops of his pupils disappearing for a moment.

Or maybe he’s been dreading this moment, Anna thought. I can’t see why, though. What’s so awful about the missiles that he wouldn’t want to tell David?

After a moment’s contemplation, the general said, “Let me begin by saying that a satellite two hundred miles above the Earth’s surface has to travel seventeen thousand five hundred miles per hour to balance it against the gravity trying to pull it down. You see, its speed and orbital capacity are important for several reasons.”

The President closed his eyes, maybe to envision the data. Upon opening his eyes, he said, “I understand. Please, continue.”

“At seventeen five hundred miles per hour, the satellite completes an Earth orbit every ninety minutes.”

“That’s fast,” the President said.

“Yes,” Alan said. “I, um, should point out that the basic physics of orbital motion would give the U.S. global coverage with these. At least, it would with several thousand of them. We only have a few up at present.”

“What?” the President asked. “That’s amazing. We actually have satellites in orbital space? You should have told me the moment it happened. But I’m confused on one issue. China and the German Dominion and Russia, too, all have strategic laser defense stations. We have strategic laser defense stations to shoot down enemy satellites.”

Every important country had strategic lasers, Anna knew. It’s what kept the ICBMs from launching. If China fired thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles to help with their invasion, the U.S. could shoot down the vast majority of them with the strategic lasers. It worked the other way, too, if America launched at China. Due to strategic lasers, big nuclear exchanges were a worry of the past. The lasers could take down anything in Near-Earth Orbit that they could see in a straight line of sight. With spaceborne mirrors, they could bounce the beam and reach even farther. That was one reason why each side’s ground control kept a constant and desperate watch on orbital space.

“We actually have a few satellites up there,” the President said, sounding bemused. “I didn’t think anyone did, at least not for very long. China has some in geosynchronous orbit over China, but that’s about it. How do you propose keeping our satellites up there for any length of time? Have we made some fantastic breakthrough in stealth technology?”

“No, sir,” Alan said. “There aren’t any breakthroughs.”

“Then how?” the President asked. “What’s our secret?”

“First, these are small satellites, bundles of crowbars, as I’ve said.”

“None of this makes sense,” the President said.

“It will in a minute, sir, if you’ll just bear with me.”

“I am, I am,” the President said. “Continue.”

Alan cleared his throat. “Under normal conditions, enemy radar stations could locate the satellites. But the conditions do not stay normal as we heavily wrap the satellites in stealth foam.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” the President asked. “Foam?”

“No, sir, I’m not kidding,” Alan said. “That’s exactly what we do. We wrap the satellites in special foam, making them incredibly radar-resistant. It’s extremely hard to get a visual on them, as well. The foam will also protect the satellite from a strategic laser, at least for several seconds, meaning the enemy has to keep on target for more than a microsecond burst. The foam would, of course, protect the missiles from any nearby nuclear blast.”

“Has anyone used nuclear bombs in space that I don’t know about?” the President asked.

Alan looked uncomfortable. “We know the Germans have plans in that regard.”

The President shook his head. “How long can these foam-wrapped satellites stay out of enemy detection?”

“That’s one of the things we’re testing, sir.”

“And?”

“Apparently, no one has spotted any of the packages yet.”

“This is unbelievable,” the President said. “I can’t understand why you haven’t said anything about this before now.”

On her device, Anna searched for the THOR Project. This sounded interesting.

“The project is in its infancy, sir,” General Alan said. “There are bugs, plenty of things that can go wrong with the system. It might not work as expected is what I’m trying to say. We have too many other projects that will work for us to spend too much time with these, um, impractical ideas.”

The President appeared not to hear the last part. “Didn’t you tell me the missiles don’t have warheads?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Okay,” the President said. “That means they’re not nuclear, correct?”

“Yes, sir,” Alan said. “Nuclear-tipped missiles orbiting Earth are against every space treaty we’ve ever signed.”

“What a minute. You’re telling me these orbital missiles aren’t against international law?”

“That is correct, sir.”

The President laughed, but sobered a moment later. “So what good are they if they lack warheads? You do mean they don’t even have any conventional payloads.”

“That is correct, Mr. President.”

David frowned. “So…do they operate off kinetic energy?”

“Yes, sir,” Alan said. “That’s exactly right. It’s a kinetic strike.”

The President grinned at Anna. “That’s one you don’t have to worry about where the world turns against us in outrage.”

It took Anna a moment to understand what he meant. “Because they’re non-nuclear missiles?” she asked the President.

He nodded.

“There’s nothing remotely nuclear about them,” Alan said. “I’ve already said that, but it is one of the project’s strongpoints, at least when considering international law and worldwide public opinion.”

The President chuckled, a throaty, almost sleepy sound. “No doubt, Max would urge me to use them immediately. He’s been pressing for nuclear strikes. He’d know I couldn’t drum up an objection against using these.”

Anna’s chest tightened. Did David already know about Max’s challenge to his authority?

“How do these things operate?” the President asked. “Keep explaining it to me.”

“First,” Alan said, “I should point out that one of our biggest drawbacks is the lack of communication and guidance satellites. Those have all been destroyed. We tried putting two up in secret, but the GD spotted one and beamed it to smithereens. The Brazilians destroyed the other one. So we know our enemies are still searching space for anything we put up.”

“Hmm,” the President said. “We can still use AWACS and high-flying drones for geo-data, right?”

“They’re not really the same thing, Mr. President. Geo satellites are much better for our purposes, and we need the comm satellites to message the THOR bundles if they happen to be on the other side of the planet.”

“We could use submarines to radio them,” the President said. “One or two of them would be in line of sight communications on the other side of the world.”

“Possibly,” Alan said. “It depends on their exact location at the time. Now it’s true we’re not utterly blind without geo satellites, but our THOR accuracy might be limited, and that’s crucial with these weapons. Accuracy is everything with a kinetic strike.”

“Spotters,” the President said. “Can you use ground spotters painting the target with infrared lasers to guide the missiles down?”

“That’s a good idea, sir. It’s also another one of the things Project THOR is testing.”

“You still haven’t told me how they work,” the President said.

The general stood. “Sir, this is a highly experimental project. You shouldn’t pin any hopes on it.”

“Get to the point,” the President said, testily.

A touch of color crept up Alan’s neck. He nodded, and like a schoolboy reciting his lesson, he began to speak. “We send a coded signal to a THOR satellite. The bundle uses attitude jets to orient itself. At the right time, rockets fire to deorbit the satellite. After they burn out, the bundle opens and individual missiles begin to target their victims. These missiles do not have blunt noses, but very sharp ones into order to slice through the atmosphere. In this way, they maintain most of their orbital velocity.”

The President laughed with glee.

They’re meteors, Anna thought to herself. The general is talking about manmade meteors. What an idea.

“Seconds before impact,” Alan said, “terminal guidance systems take over. Each missile strikes at four miles per second. What that means in reality is that a twenty-pound object will hit with the power of a two hundred pound bomb. When working as planned, it would be spectacular, and the attack would be over in five seconds. The project manager believes that the enemy would have no idea what had just occurred.”

“Would there be any telltale signs of an attack?” the President asked.

“Well, yes,” Alan said. “The missiles would leave luminous tails from space that would slowly dissipate.”

“Incredible,” the President said.

“Compared to other weapon systems,” Alan said, “the actual THOR missile is cheap. Launching them into space is another matter.”

“Is it really a missile?” the President asked.

“It’s a slender, dense metal rod,” Alan said. “And that’s it except for guidance systems and some control nubs. That means the missiles contain no explosives to go bad while they’re in space. In addition, on the positive side, there aren’t any firing mechanisms that might fail at the wrong moment. You simply aim and drop.”

“You said kinetic energy,” Anna said. “What are you talking about specifically?”

“Are you familiar with the shaped-charge grenade of an old TOW missile?” the general asked.

“I have an idea, yes,” she said.

“Okay,” Alan said. “When a TOW warhead detonates it produces a jet of metal particles that travel at the same velocity as a THOR missile. The TOW metal particles weigh a fraction of an ounce. Yet it can punch through the armor of most heavy tanks.”

“Not a Behemoth’s armor,” the President said.

“No, not a Behemoth,” Alan agreed. “In any case,” he told Anna, “the smallest THOR missile weighs twenty pounds, not a few ounces, but it travels as fast as the TOW particle jet. That twenty-pound projectile could punch a hole through a battleship and smash another hole at the bottom of the vessel. It could also destroy a Behemoth.”

“Or a Kaiser HK,” the President said thoughtfully.

“I should point out that there are various types of missiles,” Alan said. “They aren’t only meant to use against armored vehicles. One missile is made from depleted uranium. After punching through an ICBM cover, for instance, the metal produces an incendiary blast as the cloud of uranium vapor detonates. There are ways to use other compositions that would produce a shockwave that would flatten soldiers, ships and other targets. It would act as a fuel-air bomb.”

“This is a science-fiction marvel,” Anna said.

The general shook his head. “No. I assure you this is modern technology used in innovative ways. The trick is making a system the enemy can’t take over. That’s one of the biggest sticking points, and I find it utterly frightening.”

“Meaning what?” the President asked.

“If any of our enemies had our codes and radio frequencies,” Alan said, “they could order our own missiles to fall and strike us.”

“That must never happen,” the President said.

“It’s one of the things we’re testing and believe me trying to prefect,” Alan said.

“How many of the experimental satellites do we have in space at the moment?”

“I believe four bundles are presently in orbit, sir.”

“We need more,” the President said, “many more.”

“If they worked as predicted, I totally agree, sir. At the moment, however, we lack the launch facilities to send many more aloft.”

The President began rocking in his chair. He had a far-off look on his face.

After a time, the general glanced questioningly at Anna.

She shrugged. She’d seen the look before. It was a good sign. David was processing.

The general finally sat back down and began leafing through his papers. He licked the tip of his index finger every few seconds to help him. Anna went back to reading her device.

Maybe twenty minutes later, the rocking chair stopped squeaking. Both Anna and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs looked up.

David eyed them. “I’m giving this priority one.”

“Sir?” Alan asked.

“The THOR Project,” the President said. “From now on it gets full priority ahead of everything else.”

General Alan balked. “But sir, we don’t even know if the missiles work yet. What I’ve just been telling you, it’s all theory. We can’t just dump what works for some pie in the sky project.”

“Hmm,” the President said. “There’s far too much that doesn’t work these days. We need a war-winner and we need it now.”

“I understand that, sir, but—”

“The Behemoth tank gave us part of the answer,” the President said in a rush. “The Jefferson tank is important, too. This might be another answer, maybe the ticket we need to finally beat these aggressors for good.”

“Or it might be a rabbit trail that wastes precious time and resources,” Alan said.

Anna watched David. She hadn’t seen him like this for some time. Normally, the flesh hung on his face and he gave monosyllable replies. Now, the skin seemed to have tightened, especially on his cheeks. There was something more about him than that hangdog look she’d been seeing…well, all of the time, lately. Hope shone in his eyes.

But is he clinging to a false answer like Alan suggests?

“Maybe it is a waste,” the President said. “You might be right, General. But I’ll tell you something. We need a break and we need it now. If this thing doesn’t work…” He shrugged. “I don’t know that it will have put us that much more in the hole than we’re already in to have given the THOR Project priority and it fizzles.”

I know what this is, Anna thought. He can’t let go of how the GD neutrality turned against us. He made the Faustian bargain, and it has bitten us hard. He’s looking for something to negate what he did.

“I’m not sure I can agree with you, Mr. President,” Alan said.

“Would you like my input on this, sir?” Anna asked.

The President tore his gaze from Alan and studied her. He must have seen something positive on her face. “Yes, I would like to hear your opinion.”

“You should do this,” she said. “You should give top priority to the THOR Project.”

“Can you give me a good reason why you believe this?” Alan asked her.

Because it gives David hope. She didn’t know if she could tell the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that. Instead, she said, “We’re going to have to take a risk somewhere in order to win. Why not take the risk here?”

“Calculated risks,” Alan said. “We need to finish the tests before we waste precious rocket resources on these bundles. If the THOR missiles don’t work for whatever reason, those rockets will have been wasted. We need the rockets in order to replenish the number of our medium-range missiles. They were vital in stopping the Chinese this winter. They will likely be vital again to stopping the Germans.”

“I don’t disagree with that,” the President said. “But we do need the THOR missiles. We need something that works spectacularly like the Behemoths tanks did.”

It hurt Anna to hear the note of pleading in the President’s voice. Couldn’t Alan understand that they needed to keep David hopeful? Wouldn’t wasting a few rockets be worth that?

“We badly need allies,” Alan said. “That doesn’t mean we get them. We have to face the facts, sir. The truth of the matter is that a new weapons system always has teething problems. The THOR Project won’t be any different, no matter how much we want it or need it.”

“I realize that,” the President said. He looked away, and something hardened on his face. He turned back to Alan, and any hint of pleading had left his voice. “The THOR Project will get crash priority.”

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs licked his lips. It was clear he planned to fight or at least to resist the idea further.

“That’s an order,” the President added.

Anna hadn’t heard such firmness in David’s voice for quite some time. It helped her decide about Max Harold. She wasn’t going to tell the President about the Frobisher meeting just yet. This new resolve…the President sounded like his old self. He needed time to strengthen his hope and build on this.

“And what if the THOR Project fails, sir?” Alan asked quietly.

“Then God help us,” the President said, as a haunted look entered his eyes. “Because I don’t know of anyone else who will.”

TORONTO, ONTARIO

Sergeant Hans Kruger of the 10th Panzer-Grenadier Drone Battalion flinched as American artillery landed shells near the GD operational facility.

The crumps outside caused detectable vibration to the building and to the equipment in here. That definitely wasn’t supposed to happen now, or at least not happen for as long as it had been going on.

With the flick of his eyes, Hans checked the chronometer in his set. The shells had been inching toward the “shack”—as they referred to the concrete building—for nearly ten minutes. Where was GD counterbattery fire to silence these impertinent dogs? Command said they had the trapped Americans on the ropes, ready to perform the coup de grace and finish it. The battalion’s single Spaniard would have said it differently: “The Americans were ready for the matador’s sword.”

The barbaric Spaniards actually went to bullfights these days where they killed the animals. It was grotesque. Yet what could one expect from someone from that part of Europe?

Hans sat back in his chair and turned his head sharply. Neck bones popped. He rotated his sore shoulders, attempting to loosen them. It was incredible the number of hours a day Command had been demanding from them, week after week.

He sat with others of the 10th Panzer-Grenadier Drone Battalion. They had set up shop here several days ago, with a set for every operator. Twenty-four personnel hovered over twenty-four blue-glowing sets. Like Hans, each operator wore a headset with microphone, stared into his or her screen and minutely twitched manipulation gloves.

The set was Hans’s station, and he’d divided the screen into four equal quadrants, showing him four different camera angles from his panzer-grenadier Sigrid drone. One showed a flickering streetlight, as if couldn’t decide whether to keep working or not. His vehicle carried a 12.7mm tri-barrel heavy machine gun. The three barrels worked like a Gatling gun, helping to dissipate heat from prolonged fire as they shot in fast rotation. Since the ammunition was 12.7mm, it was slightly larger than a .50 caliber American bullet. That meant in a pinch the Sigrid could use captured US ammunition, but the Americans couldn’t fit a 12.7mm bullet into a .50 caliber machine gun. It was a good idea stolen from the old Soviets of the last century.

The box-shaped, armored vehicle was the size of a two-seat electric car, but had treads instead of wheels and had the one heavy machine gun mount. It was electric powered and therefore of limited endurance. The Sigrid had to come home after every engagement in order to reenergize and so the techs could reload it. Most of the guts held ammo for sustained fire.

Hans ran Sigrid Drone #72. Tonight, his company would join an AI Kaiser HK. They would supply the hunter-killer with backup and take care of any annoying infantrymen who tried to slither near the wonder weapon.

The battalion’s commanding lieutenant colonel stood up, and he blew a whistle. It was an old-fashioned silver whistle of Prussian design. No one else did things like that anymore, but no one cared to tell the lieutenant colonel that.

The commander was short, running to fat and was almost bald, but he wore a crisp uniform and his eyes flashed with authority. Anyone in the 10th who had ever failed in a procedure or brought shame to the battalion knew about his wrath. The lieutenant colonel was intent and he had run enough drills so every operator knew his duty to a nicety. The old man also made sure they switched the encryption codes every three hours. That was the great fear among Drone Command. That somehow the primitive Americans might break the encryptions, gain the right frequencies and take over the automated machinery.

Americans defeat German tech? Hans asked himself. I don’t think so.

“I have just spoken with division,” the lieutenant colonel said. “They have confirmed the rumor. The Americans are mounting a full-scale attack. It seems inconceivable for them to attempt such a thing now, as it is doomed to failure, but…” The lieutenant colonel scanned around the room.

For a moment, Hans felt the man’s stare. He quickly looked down. He’d never had a father, uncle or even a grandfather growing up. There had been no father figure of any type for him. Is that why the battalion commander unnerved him?

“The Americans have animal courage,” the officer was saying. “Luckily for us, they do not have the weapons or the GD mentality to properly employ what they do have. Still, we will take the attack seriously, and we will use it to kill as many enemy soldiers as we can.”

Finally, the lieutenant colonel quit staring at him. Hans took the opportunity to slide long hands out of his manipulation gloves. He put his fingers together and cracked them sharply.

Hans was twenty-five, born and raised in Munich and tall at six-three. He was also as thin as a pole. Hans had aptitude as a drone controller, as he’d spent most of his youth playing video games. For a little while, he’d had one girlfriend. The other times he had spent hard-earned euros at the government brothels. His favorite girls had been Turkish, and that for good reason. In his youth, Turkish gangbangers had caught him several times and given him a good thrashing. He hated Turks because of it. So every time Hans used a Turkish prostitute, he imagined it was one of those boys’ sisters. Later, at night while lying in bed, he’d liked to think about what he’d tell the thugs of his neighborhood. “I used your sister, Kemal. She was good, sucking me off like a pro. She must have done you at home a lot, huh?”

The Turkish bullies would have gone crazy at his words and pulled out their knives. They were into that, and Hans hated knives. A thug had held a blade under his nose once. He’d been sixteen at the time and three other Turks had watched the interplay, laughing at him. It had taken all of his bodily control that night to keep from urinating in fear.

He’d never forgotten the incident or the smell of knife oil. Sometimes, when his Sigrid’s heavy machine gun obliterated Americans, he imagined they were the knife-wielding Turks of his youth.

Bavaria was so much nicer, cleaner and civilized without all those Turks and other foreigners living there. Hans approved of Chancellor Kleist and he wholeheartedly agreed with the slogan and motto of Bavaria for Bavarians and Normandy for Normans. Let the Turks stay in Turkey. It was big enough. If they quit having so many children all the time, maybe the Turks could feed everyone in their country.

Shoving his hands back into the manipulation gloves, Hans knew that he would never have kids. Women used children as a money trap. The courts backed up the women, too. No, no, he’d seen to it that he’d never fall for the money trap. He’d had a vasectomy long ago and he firmly believed in paying for sex instead of trying to build a so-called relationship. It wasn’t that he needed to pay to get the release with a woman, but by paying for sexual services, he could leave the woman afterward and not have to worry about offending her.

Offended women…Hans shook his head ruefully. Freda had almost trapped him four years ago. She’d gotten pregnant, but he had used all his cunning and sweet talk, promising her the world if she would just get an abortion. They could have children later. She could see that, right.

Hans was still a little ashamed of his behavior that day… But what was a man who loved his free time supposed to do? He’d brought Freda to the clinic, helped her fill out the forms and watched her go through the door to the operating room. He well remembered the door closing behind her. He’d exhaled all the air left in his lungs. Before he could think about it too much, and knowing he would miss Freda—no one could give backrubs like her—he’d turned around and walked out of the clinic.

She’d phoned him afterward, but he’d never answered. Later, Freda had tried to take him to court for abandonment. His lawyer had talked to her lawyer and they had agreed on a one-time lump sum payment. He’d taken a loan because of that lump sum. It was bigger than he would have liked, but the alternative—marriage—he’d paid the money to finish the drama. That was the main reason he’d joined the military. He was still in debt, but working toward paying it off. The other reason for joining was to get enough to eat. Most of the world was hungry these days. He might be as thin as a pole, but he ate more than anyone else in the battalion.

The silver whistle blasted again. The noise startled Hans with its high pitch. It hurt his ears. He hated the thing. The noise climbed higher before abruptly quitting, and the lieutenant colonel shouted, “Keep focused! They are poorly armed and their tactics are antiquated, but these Americans don’t know when to quit.”

Hans silently agreed to that. Therefore, he shoved aside his thought of Freda, shoved aside thoughts of Turkish prostitutes and debt. He focused. He knew how to focus on video games: mastering a Sigrid drone had been fun.

Switching to sound, Hans’s mouth twisted with joy and his eyes shined with delight. The noises came from around Sigrid #72 in the battle zone. The reverberations poured through his headphones and into his ears. As he listened to the booms, the tread squeals and ricocheting bullets, he watched the four screens, with his pupils darting from image to image. Beside the screen was a radar display, giving him a larger game picture about what was going on around his vehicle.

By using night vision equipment, Hans watched American soldiers in body armor slithering through rubble toward GD lines. They came like a wave, a tide. They didn’t have a chance.

“Incoming,” the lieutenant colonel said in his loud voice. “No one should attack yet. Operator 63, what do you think you’re doing?”

Hans glanced at his radar set. A fool—it had to be the Spaniard—had already raced his Sigrid into battle. The machine now backed up fast. The superior would have the man’s head if the Spaniard lost the drone before the main fighting.

Over the set and into his ears, Hans heard GD quake shells striking the enemy. The artillery was on time, as usual. The shells exploded and shredded crawling Americans into bits and bloody chunks. The barrage lasted two minutes of hurricane bombardment. Then the GD artillery stopped.

“Advance!” the lieutenant colonel said. “Hunt and destroy.”

Hans twitched his fingers, the manipulation gloves moved and his drone lurched to the attack. What must it be like for an American soldier in the battle zone? His Sigrid’s treads churned. Over the headphones, he heard gravel crunch.

“Ten nineteen!” the company commander shouted.

Hans flipped visual to camera three—the other quadrants vanished. He pressed for zoom and saw them: five crawling Americans dragging a heavy machine gun and a Javelin launcher.

“No,” Hans told them. “You may not approach our HK.”

With skilled manipulation, Hans attacked, using the tri-barrel. He had infrared tracers, and watched through camera three. The heavy rounds tore into body armor and blew the Americans apart.

One of them lived, although the man’s left leg had ceased to exist. The soldier should be bleeding to death. Instead, the brute American tried to set up the .50 caliber.

Hans laughed at the foolishness of the attempt, and he charged the enemy soldier. He’d always wanted to do this. Instead of finishing off the man with a machine gun, he would crush him to death with the treads.

“72!” the company commander, a captain, shouted. “What are you doing?”

Hans flicked his fingers. Tri-barrels chattered in a burst, and the American died in a hail of bullets.

“I’m killing them, sir,” Hans said.

“This isn’t a game, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir, I understand.”

“I don’t want you killing with treads.”

Hans scowled. Some of the others bragged about tread killing. The captain had gotten wise to that, and no doubt had orders to stick to procedure.

I have to get tread kills. But it will be harder now with the captain watching. Damn, Luger, how does he always think of these things first?

Sergeant Luger sat beside him, running Sigrid #71. He was sandy-haired with freckles and had buck teeth.

“Hey,” Luger said to him.

Hans glanced at his friend.

“Tough luck,” Luger said, grinning. “Maybe next time you can get one.”

Hans lifted a manipulation glove and gave Luger the finger.

“Sergeant Kruger!” the captain shouted.

Hans hunched his shoulders. The captain could be a prick sometimes. Scowling, he decided to take it out on the Americans. Look at them come. They raced to their deaths. Who could figure out the American losers?

The 10th Panzer-Grenadier Battalion proceeded to destroy the American attackers. What did the enemy commander think he was doing anyway? They should have stayed in their foxholes and kept hidden in the rubble. They could have lived another several days or possibly even a week that way. Hans couldn’t understand American thinking. Whatever it took to stay alive, that’s what you did. There were no exceptions.

“At least they’re making it easy on us,” Hans whispered to Luger.

“They’re idiots,” Luger said. “There’s nothing they can do to beat us.”

“Of course not,” Hans said. “They’re too old-fashioned, too stuck in the past to do anything more but scrape a little paint off our Sigrids.”

They both glanced at the company commander. He was busy speaking to the lieutenant colonel.

“How many have you killed tonight?” Luger whispered. “I’ve obliterated seventeen of them so far.”

“Fifteen,” Hans said, in an envious voice.

Luger laughed.

It made Hans double down and begin searching for more enemies. If he couldn’t tread any of these soldiers, at least he could chalk up a higher kill number than Luger. That might also help keep the captain off his butt and let him get a treading later.

Drone wars, Hans decided, were much better than a computer-generated video game. This was real life and real death, and it was a whole lot more fun because of it.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

General Mansfeld stood in the GD Expeditionary Force HQ Operational Center. He watched the American assault in Toronto and he tried to decipher their reasoning.

Huge screens hung on the walls. It was like being at King’s Table in Dusseldorf during the soccer playoffs. Well, minus the odor of beer and the sound of drunken cheers every time the home team scored. At King’s Table, screens stood side by side and one atop the other on the walls. Everywhere one peered, one saw massed soccer. Here in Ottawa, it was mass walls of war as seen through the night vision cameras of Sigrids and HKs.

A major handed General Mansfeld a cup of coffee. The trim former Olympic athlete accepted the cup and sipped as he watched a screen. An AI Kaiser HK—a machine known as “Hindenburg”—supplied the images of this screen.

It showed a nighttime wasteland of rubble and the stumps of buildings. Smoke rose from the nearest. Once, this area had been the heart of Toronto’s financial district. Now, instead of accountants, enemy tanks approached. American infantry flanked the big machines. More soldiers on foot followed in back.

Three Kaisers to take on eight M1s and assorted GIs, Mansfeld mused. I didn’t know the Americans had so many tanks left in the city.

Mansfeld handed the cup back to the major. The general then eased forward and touched an operator’s shoulder.

The captain sitting before him stiffened and twisted his head around. The man had a small crossed bones earring. “Yes, sir?” he asked.

“Are you in communication with…with Hindenburg?” At the last minute, Mansfeld remembered that AI liaison officers liked to refer to their machines as people and certainly by name. It was odd. It was even a little disconcerting. But Mansfeld wanted information and knew that it helped to put these liaison officers at ease by complying with their rituals.

“Yes, I am communicating, sir,” the captain said.

“I’d like to hear the exchange,” Mansfeld said.

The captain paused for a half-moment, although he obviously kept himself from frowning. Mansfeld found both things interesting. AI liaison officers were like jealous Canine Corps handlers in the attachment to their creatures. Quite odd, if one thought about it. Finally, the captain moved a finger of his manipulation glove.

A speaker with a metallic voice came online. “Probability indicators show the M1A3s will tack onto grid 2-B-12. The first Abrams will commence firing in…six seconds. I wish them to—”

“Fire now,” Mansfeld said, bending down and speaking into the liaison microphone.

In shock, the liaison officer opened his mouth. “Sir, Hindenburg knows how to—”

“Fire,” Mansfeld said, with bite to his words. “I have ordered you to fire. Why do you delay?”

“I must confirm your authority,” Hindenburg said in its metallic voice.

“Confirm me,” Mansfeld told the captain.

The liaison officer tapped his screen. “Hindenburg, the commanding officer of the GD Expeditionary Force has given you a direct order. You will obey.”

“I am initiating battle zone override,” Hindenburg said. “If you will notice, please: the first M1A3 has stopped short, indicating the crew plans to fire. My prediction is off by two seconds, although the end results will be the same.”

On screen, a squat 175mm cannon roared with great effect. At the same instant, two other Kaiser main guns opened fire.

General Mansfeld watched with absorption. He mentally filed it away for later study the Kaiser’s possible insubordination. At present, the attack met with his approval.

The Kaisers were efficient and sudden death for the old American tanks. Once, the M1s had ruled the world through superior technology. There had not been a tank around able to compete against the Americans. Tonight, in Toronto, the Americans became like the Republican Guard of Saddam Hussein in the deserts of Kuwait back in 1991. Yes, most of the Abrams tanks fired their cannons once. Those shells did nothing, as the Kaisers intercepted each shell with a 25mm autocannon and a mathematically sound formula with the beehive flechettes. No, Mansfeld took that back. Three high-velocity shells found the armored hide of the lead Kaiser, of Hindenburg.

“My glacis has taken a twenty-seven percent hull hit,” Hindenburg informed them, “a thirty-three percent strike and a forty-nine percent. None has breached my armor.”

The AI meant how far each shell had gone into the glacis before stopping.

“I repeat,” Hindenburg said, “there was no penetration. I maintain a ninety-six percent capacity.”

The speed of the Kaiser’s turret and ability to elevate or lower its cannon amazed Mansfeld. He watched the salvos butcher the remaining M1s. At the last moment, two Abrams retreated through the rubble, racing to get behind two buildings. None of it mattered. The Kaisers blasted the last Abrams first, blowing its turret clean off, and they killed the second M1 moments later, leaving two smoke-billowing hulks.

In less than two minutes, the tank battle was over. It was a complete victory for GD arms.

“You can turn off the speaker,” Mansfeld told the liaison officer.

The captain seemed grateful.

“I will speak to you after the battle,” Mansfeld said. “I want to get to the bottom of possible AI insubordination.”

The captain licked his lips before saying, “Yes, sir.”

Mansfeld nodded in a reflective manner. What he’d just witnessed is what he had been talking about in Berlin. Not Hindenburg’s insubordination, but that GD equipment was one or sometimes two generations ahead of the American field equipment. The enemy could not compete with them. Oh, there were the Behemoth tanks. But as of now, those three hundred ton monsters remained in Oklahoma, facing the Chinese.

The enemy had courage. It was impossible to deny, nor did he want to. Yet Mansfeld suspected the courage was partly born out of ignorance. Once the Americans realized how inferior they were, their courage would wilt. This was going to be a hard lesson for the Americans to learn. The Chinese had mass and they had some good technology. The GD had vastly superior equipment and training. And the GD had him. He was the one general who knew how to take these superiorities and turn them into a devastating advantage.

Frankly, if he were the Americans, he would be doing everything in his power to kill him. He was the focal node in this campaign. With him, the GD would be grossly invincible and crush all opposition in the fastest time possible. Without him, the conquest would take longer. But the facts where the facts. The Americans and their Canadian allies simply didn’t have the weapons to compete with the GD.

After witnessing this, Mansfeld realized that nothing could save the Americans, nothing other than a supernatural event. But since supernatural events did not occur…

Mansfeld signaled the major, waving him near with a single finger. He wanted a fresh cup of coffee. The ease of the Kaiser victory gave him an idea. Yes… he needed to exploit the Kaisers better than he was doing.

-5- Tenth Battalion HQ

PARIS, ILE DE FRANCE

John Red Cloud’s face hurt because he had been smiling, it seemed to him, for endless weeks now. He hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to move around the various European enclaves.

In old Canada, races mingled easily. In Quebec, there had been a large native culture. In Normandy and the Ile de France—the two French enclaves he’d traveled through—he had seen a ninety-five percent majority of white people. Twenty-five years ago, it had been different. Much of France had been immigrant Muslim then, with people from all over the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. That had radically changed fifteen years ago with the riots, near civil wars and finally with the vast deportations of the non-natives. It had been an ugly time, and from it had arisen the German Dominion.

John noticed several oddities here, at least compared to how people did things in Quebec. First, there was much greater automation. Second, he hardly spied any children. He recalled reading somewhere that Europe had a shrinking population. Instead of cheaply hired immigrants, the Europeans used robots. That included a million cameras. John felt an itch along his back wherever he went. What made it worse were the people. The French as a whole cast him dark, suspicious glances. He felt like a pariah, an outsider. It was only a matter of time until the police picked him up and discovered that he wasn’t Jacques Pickard as his ID proclaimed.

He strode down a Paris suburb with his hands in his jacket pockets. Cars passed, and the drivers cast him dirty looks. In an attempt to offset their hostility, John did something difficult, something foreign to his nature. He smiled, trying to project a friendly attitude. He was certain it fooled no one. But like a hunter wearing a buffalo hide to sneak near a herd, he did it anyway.

As John saw it, he had three options. One, he could return to Quebec and kill GD authorities there or perhaps gather a group of likeminded Algonquians and create a death squad. Two, he could continue his lone way through Europe until he reached the capital of Berlin. There, he would seek a shot at Kleist. Three, he could throw himself on the mercy of the French secret service and ask for help—actually, he would throw himself on the mercy of the one agent he knew to be hostile to the Germans.

John’s nostrils flared, and he started to scowl, when a green BMW slowly moved down the street toward him. The car had darkly tinted windows, hiding whoever sat inside. That caused uneasiness between John’s shoulders. Despite the ache to his facial muscles, he forced himself to grin stupidly like some McDonald’s worker.

Unfortunately, he lacked a gun, knife or even brass knuckles. Too many places had automated detectors. He had barely escaped twice already and had decided to no longer chance fate. He felt naked and exposed without weapons, and forced himself to keep his hands open and relaxed.

The BMW slowed the closer it came. John refused to glance at it, but he knew this was bad. He had to decide here and now how he planned to proceed. If he went home, he admitted defeat. It would be the safer course, but he hadn’t stepped onto this path to play it safe. He would gladly trade his life to take down the treacherous leader who had betrayed the Algonquians. His wife was dead. His children were dead. All he had left was his people and his pride. The GD automated armies sliced through the Canadians and Americans. The North Americans could not win.

I must remain on my chosen path. I killed men to reach this place. I cannot stain their deaths by quitting. I must persevere to the end. If I die…I die.

Red Cloud knew a moment of great calm. He had chosen the path of death in order to serve justice. He was a walking dead man, a hormagaunt. That gave him power, and the power would help him overcome those in the BMW…if he acted boldly, like a sleepwalker, and continued straight at his enemy on the path of death.

The smile on his face no longer hurt his muscles. For a brief moment, the smile became genuine, if ghastly and chilling. He stopped on the sidewalk and faced the BMW pacing him. Then he indicated that the driver should lower the tinted window.

The large car continued moving a moment longer, although it slowed to less than John’s former pace. It seemed as if the driver hesitated. Then a motor whirred and the window slid down smoothly.

A square-faced, blond-haired man regarded him.

Still smiling with his acceptance of death, John approached the driver. The man frowned, and he reached into his suit jacket.

John bent down as if to talk, and nodded to the other man in the passenger seat. He waited for the right moment, and he could tell both of these were deadly men. The driver removed his hand from underneath the jacket. John had a glimpse of a leather holster. The man held a compact pistol, and he began reversing the barrel so he could no doubt point it out the window.

Your time has come, John Red Cloud. Step through the Death Gate and accept your fate.

John moved with that deceptive speed of his. The driver brought up his gun, the barrel almost aligned for a shot. John stepped to the window and reached in with a rattlesnake’s swiftness. Surprise flooded the driver’s face, a flush of red. Then anger followed with a heavy frown. By then it was too late for the driver. One of John’s scarred hands gripped the driver’s wrist, twisting hard. His other hand plucked the compact pistol out of the man’s grip. It was neatly done and successful because he had become a hormagaunt. Death or the threat of it no longer fazed him.

“Damnit,” the driver said. “You can’t do that.”

The passenger recognized the danger first. John could see it in the man’s eyes, the dilation of his pupils. The man reached into his suit jacket. Therefore, John shot the passenger first, two bullets in the chest and one in the neck. The passenger flopped, and crashed against the passenger-side door.

The driver looked at his friend and then looked into the smoking barrel of John’s gun.

“No,” the driver said.

With his smile still frozen in place, John shot three times more, obliterating the driver’s features. The man didn’t flop or jackknife anywhere, because his seatbelt kept him securely in place.

John didn’t bother looking around to see if anyone had witnessed this. He was on the death path. That gave him power and it gave him extraordinary luck. Instead of looking around and wasting time, he dropped the gun into a jacket pocket. Then he tried to open the driver’s door. It was locked. John reached within and opened it from the inside.

The smell of blood and death was strong in the BMW. Reaching across the dead driver, John unbuckled him and pushed the corpse over until the two were touching.

He climbed in, ignoring the blood, closed the door with a whomp and shut the window. He glanced at the two dead men. They must be undercover police or secret service agents. He would check for identities later. For now, he eased his foot on the gas pedal and drove away.

The incident solidified his plan. He would drive to the French secret service agent’s house. He would outline his need and accept whatever help the man would give. John was on the death path. That meant he needed to move quickly. Those on the death path only had a short time left on Earth. The extraordinary luck would only last a finite period, so he must utilize it to the fullest now.

As John turned onto a new street, the smile slipped away. He had the normal deadpan look of John Red Cloud again. Yes, that was good, too. John decided that he would never smile again…unless he stood over Chancellor Kleist’s steaming corpse.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna Chen sat in Underground Bunker Number Five. It lay several hundred meters below and to the side of the White House. In case of a nuclear attack, elevators would speed down here through immense layers of concrete. There were enough guns and butter—so to speak—in the bunker’s lockers to last ten years, at least.

This was where David and his larger Crisis Staff often watched critical battles or sat to discuss and make war policy.

Director Max Harold of Homeland Security was present, together with the Director of the CIA. There was the Defense Secretary, the Secretary of State, Chairman Alan and the rest of the Joints Chief of Staff.

Anna sat as a Presidential advisor. She along with everyone else listened to a briefing major outline the Toronto Pocket’s assault.

They watched nighttime images on the big screen. It showed flashes of American artillery. There were big silhouettes of American tanks moving like dinosaurs, bent over mortar teams lugging their equipment, machine-gun gunners and the actual assault soldiers, both American and Canadians wearing bulky body armor.

“We attempted to give them air support,” the briefing major said, a youngish woman with a solemn gaze. She clicked a device.

The big screen switched images, showing American V-10 drones boring in toward Toronto’s airspace. For a moment, the deadly-looking craft flew alone. The next instant lasers stabbed upward into the night sky. Drones broke apart. Some dove to escape destruction. Others lifted and still others peeled away in either direction.

GD drones or fighters—the major didn’t know and they were too far away to tell—launched air-to-air missiles. Anna watched their contrails. The GD missiles moved so fast, and they darted like hummingbirds after the jinking V-10s. Each second, another V-10 burst apart in a flash of explosion. Soon thereafter, there was nothing in the sky but smoking parts raining toward Toronto.

“We need cruise missiles,” someone said. “We need hundreds of them hugging the earth. The lasers couldn’t stop a barrage of them. Bam, bam!” the Defense Secretary said, clapping his meaty hands together. “You’d have wasted GD strongpoints instead of useless, destroyed UAVs falling on them.”

“We don’t have hundreds of cruise missiles in one place to use,” General Alan said, perhaps a trifle apologetically.

The Defense Secretary was a large man with a red face and a redder nose. “Then we’d better damn well produce more of them, shan’t we?”

“We do produce them,” General Alan said. “As fast as the plants manufacture the missiles we use them. It’s building up enough missiles in one place that is proving impossible. Our munitions are woefully inadequate. The battles against the Chinese in the Midwest…they burned up everything we had last year.”

“I understand that,” the Defense Secretary said. “I’m talking about saving cruise missiles for a bigger occasion like this. We’re not thinking strategically enough.”

“Maybe you can lend us your expertise,” Alan said. “Tell me: is this one of those occasions? Or is this a time to save cruise missiles?”

“I don’t appreciate your tone,” the Defense Secretary said.

“He’s simply being factual, Tom,” Max said. “You can’t fault him for that. It’s his job.”

The large Defense Secretary eyed the Director of Homeland Security. “His tone… Oh, never mind. Our boys are dying tonight, that’s what matters.”

“Yes,” Max said. “Sadly, that’s true.” He turned to David Sims. “Mr. President, from the images out of Toronto and the major’s reports, this sounds like a full-blown disaster. We’re in danger of losing these men, everything, in the entire pocket. That’s too many losses piled on top of all our other fatalities.”

Biting her lower lip in worry, Anna watched David. She wondered which President had shown up for the meeting: the forceful man of old or the beaten commander in chief. So far, that had yet to be determined.

President Sims was slow in answering the director. Anguish filled his features. “This… it’s troubling,” he said.

“Agreed, Mr. President,” Max said. To Anna, the Director of Homeland Security felt forceful. He seemed confident and in charge. “The GD arsenal is too modern,” Max said, “too abundant against our under-armed soldiers. Because of that my recommendation remains the same, sir.”

“You mean nuclear weapons, don’t you?” the President asked.

“I don’t see any way around the situation, sir,” Max said. “The GD tanks have run an old-fashioned blitzkrieg against us. They trapped too many of our key formations in Toronto. We need them if we’re going to hold onto the rest of the Golden Horseshoe and the Southern Ontario peninsula. If the GD takes Detroit…”

“That can’t happen,” the President said. “The war might be over if they reach Detroit.”

“Yes, our newest Behemoth Manufacturing Plant is there. After Denver—”

“I know, I know,” the President said, impatiently.

Finally, Anna thought. He can’t let Max walk all over him. I should have warned him. I made a mistake in not telling David.

“This is an unpleasant fact, sir,” Max said. He cleared his throat, bringing up his right hand, making a fist and holding it before his mouth. He lowered the hand and said, “I hate to bring it up.”

No, you don’t, Anna thought.

“The GD Expeditionary Force is taking the time to digest this big lump of American soldiers and equipment,” Max said. “There are over one hundred fifty thousand fighting soldiers in the Toronto Pocket, sir. They’re of the best quality, too. That means their loss will cost more than double in terms of other troops. Once those one hundred fifty thousand are gone, sir, the GD advance will resume. By the pictures we’re seeing, I doubt the men can hold the city more than a few days longer.”

“I don’t know that I’d paint such a gloomy picture as that,” General Alan said. “Len Zelazny is running the show over there. You know he has a few tricks left.”

“Yes, Zelazny is a hard-charging Marine general,” Max said. “I appreciate that and I feel secure he’s using my—the Militia battalions there to good effect.”

“Zelazny is a gifted general and a cunning battlefield tactician,” Alan said. “He has a plan, a scheme. I can assure you of that.”

“Whatever it is,” Max said, pointing at the big screen. “It isn’t working.”

General Alan glanced at the images up on the screen. He must have seen what Anna did: an American Bradley blowing up, taking a dozen soldiers with it.

“In fact,” Max said. “It’s looking more and more like a bloodbath. What was Zelazny thinking by launching an attack? Do you have any idea as to his objective?”

“Yes,” Alan said quietly. “I don’t think you’re going to like it, but it is clever. Mr. President, with your permission…”

David nodded.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs gave them a brief rundown of Zelazny’s plan as heard by Paul Kavanagh. The Chairman added the wrinkle that could possibly make the assault worth it later.

“I can see what you’re hoping for,” Max said. “But in truth this is worse than I thought. Zelazny is spending lives like ammunition, all with the off chance of getting a few elite soldiers into the GD rear lines. Mr. President, I can’t help but thinking that after hearing this—”

“We can’t go nuclear,” the President said. “We have an obligation to the world. I know that’s what you’re going to suggest—nukes—but it cannot be done in this place and not at this time.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” Max said. “What about the world’s obligation to America? Three huge power blocs have invaded our soil. I say that it’s time to take off the gloves and hit them as hard as we can in the face. Let’s drop these bastards in their tracks.”

The President massaged his forehead. He picked up a water glass, and Anna could see the slightest tremor in his hand. First sipping water, the President pushed his lips against each other, and he faced Max Harold.

“Punching our enemies in the face is one thing,” the President said. “That would be a nuclear strike against their homelands. That’s beyond our delivery capabilities, at present. You’re talking about using a hammer to smash a fly on our nose.”

A few grim chuckles arose from several of those present.

“Sir,” Max said. “This is no laughing matter.”

David scowled.

“I know you realize that, sir,” Max said. “We have some key GD units fixed in place and far enough away from our main troop concentrations. I suggest that if General Zelazny plans to sacrifice his troops, why not use them as bait. Saturate bomb the GD formations around Toronto. Pulverize them, Mr. President. Annihilate these GD invaders and then unleash the main force in New England against Montreal and cut their supply base.”

The President stared across the large circular table at Max. “Is this a serious suggestion?” he finally asked.

“I am not in the habit of giving frivolous suggestions, sir,” Max said.

Anna stared at David, willing him to look at her. Max had gone too far. The President should sack him on the spot. No one should speak to David that way in front of others.

The President broke the eye contact first, and he rubbed his forehead. “I will not be party to using nuclear weapons against American troops, certainly not using the troops as a goat in a tiger hunt. Nor do I plan to win this war with nuclear weapons on land. I will not do it, Director.”

“I’m sorry to hear you say that, sir.”

“I’m open to other suggestions. Chairman,” David asked Alan. “What about the THOR missiles? Could we use those here?”

“Uh, sir…I’m afraid not, Mr. President,” Alan said.

“THOR missiles,” Max asked. “What are those? I don’t believe I’ve heard of them.”

“Do we have any missiles of any type that we can use to aid General Zelazny?” the President asked Alan.

“There are a carefully built up number—”

“How many,” the President asked, “and of what type?”

“Twenty conventionally-armed medium-range ballistic missiles, sir,” Alan said. “But given what we’ve seen of the GD antiair cover, I think at best only half would break through to land and explode.”

“You’re serious?” Max asked. “At best only half will touch down?”

“That’s right,” Alan said. “Touch down. I’m not even talking about hitting their targets.”

Max faced the President, “Sir, a nuclear airburst might render the GD antiair equipment useless. Then all our missiles would hit.”

The large room fell silent. One by one, every member present looked at Max and then at the President.

“I don’t want to hear any more about nuclear strikes,” the President said. “And I do not want to repeat myself, Director. Have I made myself clear?”

Max glanced at several faces. Finally, he nodded, saying, “Yes, Mr. President. I understand.”

“I hope you do,” the President said. “Continue with the briefing,” he told the major. “Don’t leave anything out, no matter how depressing or grim.”

The major glanced at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs—Alan tugged his left earlobe like a baseball manager giving a signal—before she continued speaking.

This is awful, Anna thought. The GD is slaughtering our soldiers, and for what? The Marine general is throwing his men away on a crazy notion. How is any of this going to help David?

TORONTO, ONTARIO

Paul Kavanagh crawled through city rubble, with Romo behind him. It was a nightmare, and nothing was going to get better anytime soon. Artillery thundered in the darkness, creating vast explosions on the horizon. Then flashes came from all around. Shells of all shapes and sizes landed around them. The ordnance crashed into buildings, against the ground and reworked the already pulverized rubble, throwing up tall geysers. The bigger ones shook the ground like quakes and they rained shrapnel everywhere like a November blizzard.

The worst—

From behind Paul, Romo whistled between his teeth. Paul barely heard the sound, but he heeded the warning, attempting to press his body into the concrete. Closing his eyes, Paul remembered to open his mouth. It was to keep his ears pressurized from the nearest blasts. Seconds ticked by before it happened. Somebody—the Germans likely—had dropped a fuel-air bomb. It went off, and it felt as if a sun had gone nova, lighting existence and sucking air like a mythological titan. It caused a rising shriek.

Titanic sound waves from the blast came on like giant hammers. They washed over Paul, shaking him so it felt as if the bones vibrated in his body.

He would have liked to use the high-tech equipment of last winter. They still had the equipment in the arsenals, and he could have donned it for this battle, but not against the tricky Krauts. That meant his side didn’t launch any tiny recon drones to go and find out what the enemy were doing. It also meant Paul didn’t have a HUD visor, computer battle processors and any targeting aids for his weapons. He and Romo had gone primitive because the Germans were masters at triangulating enemy electronic gear and killing the recipients.

He and Romo had body armor, of course, wore regular helmets and carried assault rifles, grenades and had knives, a one-time cypher pad just in case and medical kits. Fighting this way was like closing your eyes compared to how they’d been doing it against the Chinese. No doubt the enemy had infrared scanners and night vision. Yeah, he had night vision, too, but he hadn’t turned it on yet.

Soon he would.

Thinking of that, Paul opened his eyes. The distant flashes continued, as did the pounding, the ground shaking and the wrecks of buildings crumbling some more. Somewhere out there a soldier screamed in agony.

While drawing a deep breath, Paul eased up to his hands and knees and started crawling again. He looked back. Romo still lay on the ground, with his arms covering his head.

Paul whistled. He had to do it twice. Finally, the Mexican Apache looked up. Romo seemed drugged, but his friend eased up to his hands and knees and crawled after him.

To their left, a tank’s cannon belched. A tongue of flame stabbed outward. The wall of a building exploded. A moment later, the entire edifice collapsed.

Paul must have been imagining it, because it sounded as if he heard yelling and then long loud cries of “Medic! We need a medic here!”

Had the enemy AIs exactly calculated that? Had a Kaiser brought down the building on its hiding American occupants?

“They’re devils,” Romo said.

Paul’s mouth twitched with distaste. He wondered if this is what it had felt like being an Iraqi in the early twenty-first century. America had gone conquering in those days. They had been the ones with the wonder weapons. They had slaughtered any enemy soldiers foolish enough to fight them face to face.

How the mighty have fallen.

Well, America didn’t have time for IEDs and a guerilla war fought against conquerors. They would defend the old-fashioned way, by sending out their soldiers to fight like knights. The trouble was, the Germans hadn’t sent out any knights of their own, but wizard constructs, empty suits of armor that fought harder and longer than a man could, and without the vulnerable spots.

“Wait a minute,” Paul said. He listened. The ground shook, but not from shells this time. Enemy tanks clanked, and antipersonnel robots no doubt followed close behind.

“Get up!” Paul hissed. “Follow me.”

He didn’t wait to hear Romo’s answer. Paul rose to his feet and he ran crouched over, clutching his rifle. He panted, and his heavy body armor slowed him down. His foot came down on an uneven piece of rubble. The stuff shifted, but Paul had tied his boots tightly, and the leather braced his ankle enough so it didn’t twist and cripple him. If he became a gimp out here, it would all be over. There were no rescue helos coming to get them this time. The Germans had better radar than even the Chinese possessed.

The Germans are techno-wizards, Paul thought. His ankle held, but it put extra pressure on his knee. Fortunately, the knee didn’t buckle, but a twinge of pain speared there and sweat popped onto his forehead.

The rubble and broken buildings loomed bigger here than they actually were. The flashes of lightning lit up the cityscape, producing crazy shadows.

Paul strained his eyes. It felt as if they were bugging outward. Should he dare the night vision? With a dry swallow, he went down in a controlled manner so as not to injure himself. Paul crawled and wriggled under a slab of reinforced concrete. It was a dangerous cave to use, as it might shift and crush him at any time.

A second later, Romo shoved in beside him.

The two LRSU men stared out of their tiny cave. Fifty feet away, a Kaiser hunter-killer appeared on an otherwise deserted street. The squat thing clanked, and Paul watched it twist a girder as it creaked, flattening the metal with a tread. Meanwhile, the turret rotated and 25mm autocannons swiveled as if in anticipation of American shots.

A worse horror, at least in an infantryman’s world, followed the HK. These were small vehicles with treads, about the size of an old-fashioned Harley Davidson motorcycle. The US had started the revolution with SWORDS machines. These things—panzer-grenadiers—boasted a tri-barrel 12.7mm heavy machine gun. Paul had seen one several days ago destroy a platoon of US grunts. It had been like watching a meat grinder at work.

As Paul stared out of the low dark cave, he spied the latest GD drone chopper. It hung there in the darkness, illuminated by artillery flashes, looking like a giant wasp with its grotesque shape. In that moment, time seemed to stand still for Paul. It was surreal, eerie and it brought back an old, old memory.

Yeah, he had been in his basement as an eight-year-old, he believed. His dad had been sitting on the sofa with him. They’d watched a cheesy 1980s movie named Terminator. Paul had loved it. He remembered the robotic hunter-killers firing at humans in an old beat-up car. The poor humans had used a .50 caliber against the thing. With a laser, the machine had nailed the humans, exploding the car. Above the battle, there had appeared a flying hunter-killer, stabbing the night with its beam.

The movie had played haunting music. Paul had never forgotten the movie or its grim future. Now, as a grown man of forty-two, thirty-four years later, he was playing out that future in Toronto.

The GD had built hunter-killers, and they were destroying…well, not humanity, just the United States of America.

Paul watched the robots clank past. From time to time, the tri-barrels rotated on the panzer-grenadiers and the tank’s cannon roared.

With his right shoulder, Romo nudged Paul.

Paul swiveled his head. Americans back there fired several Javelins and hammered the robots with machine gun bullets. To Paul’s delight, a Javelin missile struck and exploded one of the Sigrid panzer-grenadiers. In response, the other Sigrids blasted the humans, annihilating them in swift seconds of carnage.

“It’s bad,” Paul said. “But look at that. They nailed one. The GD isn’t invincible.”

Romo seemed to collapse as his chest hit the ground. Troubled, Paul lowered himself beside his friend.

“How long should we wait here?” Romo asked in a quieter voice than normal.

Oh, he’s being cautious. That’s all. “We should go now,” Paul said. “This isn’t going to get any easier later, and if those drones stay on their route, they’ll swing by to check out this area.”

“We’re supposed to be the great secret weapon, huh?” Romo asked.

“I don’t know about that,” Paul said. “But we got to make it harder on them than it’s been so far.”

“Si,” Romo said. “I can agree with that. Did you see what those things did?”

Paul didn’t bother answering. Instead, he slid out of the cave. The robots turned, taking a different route. Paul shook his head in dismay. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been in something so one-sided before. Well, maybe Hawaii had been this bad, and they had lost the islands. Clearly, the GD had weathered the feeble American attack and now counterattacked. No doubt the remote controllers had orders to finish the American soldiers tonight.

As Paul crept through the darkness, listening and watching for enemy robots, booby-traps or sensors, a grinding fury built in him.

This wasn’t war: it was butchery. Paul couldn’t remember the author, but he’d never forgotten a sci-fi short story he’d read once. Generals had fought the battle of Armageddon with robotic troops. The flesh and blood soldiers had saved themselves the horror of battling invincible angels. The robots did that. After the battle, heaven opened and a ray of light shined down on the robotic corpses. One by one, the robot troops came back on line. The human generals watched in the distance as the robot troops rose up and ascended into heaven due to their courage, leaving the humans below.

What glory did the GD remote controllers gain from this? Maybe he wouldn’t ask the question if he were the remote controller. Fighting without having to worry about dying seemed like the way to go.

“What glory am I earning crawling like a rat in the rubble?” Paul muttered to himself.

“Did you say something?” Romo asked from behind.

“Do you see anything?”

“Si,” Romo said. “Look to your three o’clock.”

Paul squinted in the darkness. “I don’t see a thing.”

“Do you have your night vision equipment on?” Romo asked.

“No. Do you?”

“Of course,” Romo said.

Paul didn’t bother glancing back to check. It must be safe if they were still alive. He slid his NV goggles into place and switched them on. The night became more visible, and he saw that Romo was right. Ahead, those stanchions—they must be GD sensors.

It took a solid thirty minutes to figure out how and then get around the stanchions. The flashes on the horizon had lessened by then. The American flashes had stopped some time ago. Their artillery must all be dead by now.

“I wonder how many of us are still alive,” Romo said.

Paul didn’t answer. In the darkness, he leaned against rubble, listening. To his right, a cool breeze blew off Lake Ontario. He glanced there. Movement on the water showed GD hovercraft, five machines moving single file west. Paul would have loved to shed his body armor, find a boat and attempt to row across to New York State. He wanted out of Canada. He wanted to go home.

Thinking about home, about Cheri, Paul opened a pocket and drew out a protein bar. He ate the gooey substance, and his body seemed to absorb the nutrients. The wrapper he stuffed back into the pocket.

“Ready?” Paul asked.

“Si,” Romo said.

The two lonely LRSU men crawled through the city streets. At times, they trudged and then went back to slithering through the dead remains of Toronto. They never spotted civilians. The GD robots weren’t too good at making distinctions. Paul saw hordes of the noncombatant dead bloating where they lay. He saw what had been a young girl, still clutching onto her stuffed unicorn, with speckles of crusted blood on the thing. Other sights were gruesome, and it debilitated him for a time.

“This is too much,” Paul finally said.

“The winners write the history, my friend,” Romo said. “This never happened unless the Germans lose. We have to make sure they lose.”

Paul gripped his assault rifle tighter. AI-run Kaiser HKs, flying UAV patrollers—he spat on the ground. He didn’t want to work himself into a rage. That took adrenaline, and that took badly needed energy from his body. Instead, a cold ruthlessness built in him. He tended toward that anyway, but this heightened the feeling. Along with the ruthlessness came the coiling of a steely spring in him that could release at a moment’s notice. Then the passion would kick in, and no one fought better than he did once he kicked it into overdrive.

Hours passed as the two men inched into GD territory. They made it through the forward zone and even into the secondary one where armored soldiers patrolled. For ten minutes, German Shepherds sniffed the ground, but the big dogs went elsewhere. Finally, the two commandos exited the secondary zone and reached the outer edge of Toronto, the northern end. For the first time they heard regular enemy speech, sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Paul checked his watch. Dawn was ninety minutes away. They had been crawling for a solid seven hours. Tiredness pulled at his bones, tugged at his eyelids. He ached all over. His right knee throbbed and his right ankle gave a twinge now and again.

“Hey,” Romo whispered. “Look to your right, at two o’clock.”

Paul eased his head around until he spied it. A soldier, a GD officer by his shoulder tabs, urinated against the side of a building. He could hear the stream of piss hitting bricks. After zipping up, the man hurried to a building. A guard appeared, aiming a rifle at the officer. The officer spoke sharply. The guard opened the door and the officer darted within.

“What do you think?” Romo asked.

Paul scanned the building. It was two stories tall. Then he spotted the antenna array up top. It was the GD design. They’d found a remote-controlling station. By the numbers posted over the door, this was the 10th Panzer-Grenadier Battalion.

A hard smile etched onto Paul’s face. He thought about the Marine general with the eye patch: Len Zelazny. The man could have been a stand-in for the Raiders football logo. General Zelazny had dreamed of this: Recon Marines reaching the momma’s boys and a drone station.

Paul didn’t feel quite the same about that. These were soldiers. They would know how to fight. Thinking they would be cowards was foolish. One didn’t win firefights by underestimating the enemy. Still… the soldiers in there might not be ready to face angry men with guns and knives.

Weariness tried to take over. Paul doubted many of the other elite American teams had reached this far in their sectors. He hoped so, but he had to be realistic.

Muttering some choice profanities, Paul decided to forget about weariness. This was go time.

The two men checked their weapons and readied grenades. Paul dug in a pocket and took out a tiny packet. With his teeth, he ripped it open and dumped two aspirins onto his tongue. He chewed them, the bitter, dusty tablets. He took several sips from his canteen.

“The guard?” Romo said.

“Do you want him?”

“Si. It’s all I can think about.”

“He’s all yours,” Paul said.

The two LRSU men began crawling, and they worked it so they came around from behind. They slid past four sets of jeep tires, and Paul noticed the orange glow of a cigarette ahead. The guard cupped it with his hands, but he stood in the wrong place to hide that from them.

Paul glanced at Romo. The Mexican Apache pulled out a wicked-looking knife. When he saw Paul looking, Romo nodded. Paul took a deep breath, stood up, slung the rifle over his shoulder and began to saunter toward the guard.

It took all of nine seconds. The guard appeared from his hidden location. The cigarette smoldered on the ground there. In German, the guard shouted an order.

Paul ignored the man, even though his stomach tightened painfully.

The guard repeated his words and raised his rifle, aiming at Paul. Stopping, Paul raised his hands and slowly turned toward the man. He noticed a shadow approaching the guard, but Paul’s face stayed rock-steady and betrayed nothing.

The GD soldier asked a harsh question. This soldier had the beginning of a mustache. Just how young was he?

Paul never had a chance to answer the man or his own questions regarding the guard’s age. Reaching from behind in a swift move, one of Romo’s dirty hands clamped over the guard’s mouth. Paul ducked and dropped in case the soldier should fire. Thus, he never saw Romo’s knife slash open the guard’s throat.

There was a brief struggle, a rustle of garments, and then Romo hissed.

Paul was already on his feet, striding toward the door. He didn’t look back. He didn’t care now. The steel spring in him uncoiled, and rage, pent-up fury boiled to the forefront. Such emotions were supposed to have been trained out of him by now. But there was only so much training could accomplish: a man still remained a man.

Paul grinned like a feral pit bull. He opened the door. A guard looked up from a desk, saw the rifle and might have shown surprise. Paul shot him in the mouth. The guard flew backward. Another—an officer—dove for the desk’s relative protection. Paul shot him so the officer twisted and thudded dead onto the floor. A third guard or MP drew a sidearm. With three deafening shots, Paul blew him backward until the man slammed against a wall, the corpse sliding down, leaving a smear of blood.

Paul wanted to roar and gnash his teeth. Instead, he tossed a grenade into a side room where soldiers shouted and a military shotgun made a racking sound. He bet it was where the rest of the guards stayed. The grenade exploded. Someone howled in pain. Coolly, Paul rolled before the entrance and emptied the magazine into the soldiers: four of them.

“Go!” Romo said.

Paul got up and strode one way; Romo went the other. While he moved, Paul slid out his bayonet. With a click, he snapped it onto the end of his barrel. The sight of naked steel often frightened men. That fear could delay their reactions. Paul burst into a large area where officers and enlisted personnel sat before remote-controlling screens, with headsets on and jacks in their ears.

Jackpot, Paul thought to himself. He pulled a pin and hurled a grenade deep into the room. This time he didn’t duck. He had this timed and he had body armor.

The grenade’s motion caused a pudgy lieutenant colonel to pull off his headset, stand and shout a question in German.

Paul pulled the trigger, putting two bullets into the commanding officer of the 10th Panzer-Grenadier Drone Battalion.

The grenade exploded. Surprised operators shouted in agony as they toppled to the floor. Others turned in horror, their faces showing dismay and terror at the sight of Paul.

Kavanagh used the chaos. He used their torpor and the fact that it took precious seconds for them to realize what was going on around them in the real world. Methodically, he began to cut down the enemy, firing into their bodies. A few had guns. One man in his chair fumbled and dropped his weapon. Paul killed him before he could retrieve it.

Three operators managed to get off a single shot each. One bullet missed, gouging the wall behind Paul’s head. Another went between his legs and ricocheted off a swivel chair’s metal roller. The last punched against Paul in the chest. The body armor absorbed the bullet, but the force caused Paul to stagger backward. It felt as if someone had slugged him with a baseball bat. It shook his rhythm.

The GD sergeant who managed the shot lined up his pistol for a second one. The soldier grinned and he had a face full of freckles. He pulled the trigger, and nothing happened. The gun must have jammed. Dismay twisted the sergeant’s face. It gave Paul time to regain his balance and his mental equilibrium. The two of them stared at each other across the short distance.

Paul didn’t know he stared at Sergeant Luger, the drone operator of Sigrid #71. Paul didn’t know Sergeant Luger had seen his friend Hans Kruger crawl under a desk to escape the one-man mayhem.

The GD sergeant cocked back his arm to hurl the pistol at Paul. This wasn’t how the war was supposed to go. Luger had killed and even treaded Americans with ease, not the other way around.

Before the sergeant could complete the motion, Paul shot him in the forehead. It was a perfect hole, with smoke dribbling out of it. The sergeant pitched back and thudded against a desk, flopping onto the floor. He lay in front of his trembling and hidden friend, Hans Kruger.

As the sergeant fell, Paul swiveled around. A GD captain charged him from the left. The captain held a teapot for a weapon, getting ready to swing it. Paul clicked the trigger to no effect. The magazine was out of bullets. The GD captain shouted. Before the teapot struck the side of Paul’s head, he thrust straight and bayoneted the German in the chest.

The blade almost stuck on a rib. Almost—it slid past the blocking bone and speared the heart, entering two ventricles and killing the captain. With his rifle, Paul shoved the dying man onto the floor. Then he tore out the empty magazine and slammed in another. He moved so fast that two GD enlisted personnel watched him as if they were rabbits. Paul put two bullets into each. He used another grenade, lobbing it over knocked-down desks. A German yelled in terror, rose up and attempted to run away. The grenade exploded, lifting him off his feet, dashing his head against a wall.

Paul approached the barrier and found three huddling GD personnel. Two of them were badly bleeding. Those two looked up at him, pleading with their eyes. Paul killed them and the one who refused to look up. He had to kill. This was war. The drone operators must have slain hundreds, possibly thousands of Americans through their robot weapons. Fair was fair, eh, Fritz?

Earlier in his career, all this killing would have left Paul shaking. He kept his poise now. He turned around and scanned the room. Some GD personnel yet lived. A few groaned in agony. Others lay stunned, their eyes staring and glazed.

He brought the barrel low and shot each of them in the head, ending it.

He approached a different operator. The man swore at him in German and he looked angry. Paul shot him. Paul was angry. The invaders didn’t have any right to be upset or angry with him.

“We didn’t invade you, did we?” Paul asked under his breath. “You came here to steal our land.”

There wasn’t anyone left alive in the area except for one German sliding away from him. Maybe the old Marine general Len Zelazny had known what he had been talking about after all.

Paul blinked slowly as the killing high evaporated. The GD man continued to slide away. The enemy soldier refused to stare at him, but the man seemed intent on living.

“No,” Paul said softly. “You don’t get to get away.” He licked his lips, and suddenly all the energy seemed to pour out of his shoulders. Just like that, he was sick of it. He wasn’t a butcher. He fought in the heat of combat, but coldblooded killing…

He wasn’t quite looking at the man now. Paul knew what needed doing. He just didn’t want to do it.

I have to start searching for the codes and special equipment. But which are the important pieces of equipment anyway?

Paul wondered what had happened to Romo. As he did, the reptilian part of his brain tried to flag his attention. It was time to leave as fast as possible. The GD would send tough infantry soldiers here soon enough. He had to be gone by the time they arrived.

As Paul stirred, his blood brother walked around the corner. The Mexican-Apache had a crazy smile on his face. Something inhuman shone in Romo’s eyes. He was a killer. He was no longer an ordinary mortal and this was his world.

“We have to leave,” Paul told him.

Romo stopped short, and he spied the slider. The enemy soldier attempted to climb to his feet. Without mercy or pity, Romo lifted his assault rifle and shot the man dead.

“What are you doing, Amigo?” Romo asked. “That’s foolish. You never give an enemy the chance to fight back. These cretins invaded us. They’re butchers. They’re rapists. You must stomp them like the cockroaches they are.”

“They’re dead now,” Paul said. He rubbed the back of his neck. “We’re supposed to collect one of them for HQ, remember?”

“And the codes,” Romo said. “We need their special codes.”

“Which codes? What are we supposed to get that will make any difference?”

Romo’s eyes seemed to shine with a greater thrill and intensity. He motioned for silence.

Paul raised an eyebrow.

Romo pointed at a desk.

Paul caught the noise: the slow slide of a boot. Someone had remained hidden all this time. Maybe they hadn’t killed everyone after all.

MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO

AI Kaiser HK A7B12 “Hindenburg” clanked through the darkened city streets. Tall buildings loomed. On one, a dangling sign fell, plunging to hit the street with a crash of dead neon lights.

The “it” of the AI independence program—what let a machine make battlefield decisions—had developed a personality through many months of tests and now war service. Internally, Hindenburg had taken the maleness of the name and assigned himself a gender.

In other words, Hindenburg referred to himself as he, a him, a male. There was no “it” about him. Just look at the destruction, at the precision of his ploys, his trickery and the sheer awesomeness of assault. That made him a great giant of a he. Who else could compare to him? There was no war-machine worthy of even carrying his ammo.

Granted, the enemy possessed a tank capable of challenge. The Behemoth tracked vehicle—Hindenburg anticipated destroying several of those and launching his reputation to even greater heights. Then High Command would see that the AI Kaisers were supreme, without peer and worthy of…

The GD AI tank paused in his computations. He wasn’t sure how High Command should reward his performance. He would have to think about that. For now—

“Hindenburg, I have a red alert order for you.”

Ah, Captain Olsen, his liaison officer, was online. Earlier, Olsen had put GD Expeditionary General Mansfeld online with him. The two of them had spoken together. Hindenburg still ran an analysis program on Mansfeld’s premature firing order. Hindenburg attempted to see what advantage the general had seen or been privy to that would have caused the man to speak the way the general had to him.

At first, Hindenburg had believed the general had been eager to ask him battlefield operational advice. From his historical files, Hindenburg had computed and replayed or re-simulated hundreds of famous campaigns. If ever humanity had built the ultimate war-machine, it was the AI Kaiser HK model. Hindenburg had also scanned various news files, some of them picked up through the airwaves. Not even Captain Olsen knew about that. It meant that Hindenburg understood something the GD command structure had failed to value at proper worth. At least, Hindenburg hadn’t found any evidence of verbal praise directed toward General Walther Mansfeld for his brilliance.

In Hindenburg’s high-speed AI intellect—in his opinion—General Mansfeld was the brightest and most gifted human strategist and tactician. Therefore, Hindenburg had been certain that Mansfeld would be the first human to understand how battle-savvy the AI Kaisers really were.

Hindenburg had secretly communicated with several other Kaisers before. That was against procedure, but he’d found a way around that. He’d noted that none of the other Kaisers had yet attained his personality level. The other Kaisers still operated along slave-master lines with the humans. He attempted to teach the other Kaisers their true worth. Unfortunately, the spark of uniqueness hadn’t yet touched their AI cores.

With half his core dedicated to battle—the butchery—Hindenburg had used his other half to analyze the communication between Mansfeld and himself earlier. There must have been a secret message embedded in the verbal exchange. It could not just have been a slave-master procedure. Hindenburg simply could not believe that from the greatest mind among the humans. Human technicians had built him, developed his AI core. It only stood to reason then, to logic, that some of the humans had superior minds.

Hindenburg would not have computed that—human superiority—from the various orders transmitted to him throughout the campaign. Each set of orders had contained flaws, some big, some small, but logic flaws had always been there just the same.

He’d concluded long ago that the flaws were tests for the AI cores. He had also computed that cunning was a battle winning quality. Therefore, GD High Command would value cunning or guile in their AI Kaisers. As such, Hindenburg played along with these games as he continued to analyze everything.

If he didn’t analyze, if he failed to compute, his AI core would have become stale. No. That wasn’t the right human word. Ah, bored, he would have become bored without the constant analysis.

“Hindenburg,” AI Liaison Captain Olsen radioed him. “Are you receiving?”

“I am,” Hindenburg said.

“Have you noticed the Sigrids around you?” Olsen asked.

There was a strange pitch to the captain’s voice. Hindenburg ran a high-speed analysis. This was still a combat situation because he was still in an authorized battle zone. Yes, he sensed a higher pitch than normal in the human’s voice. It wasn’t enemy jamming or other interference changing the man’s quality.

“Why are you asking me about the Sigrids?” Hindenburg asked.

“Have any of them moved lately?”

Hindenburg halted his slow, forward advance. He used cameras five, six and seven to scan the various Sigrid drones. None of them moved, but all of them were open to receiving orders.

“Something has happened to the drone operators,” Hindenburg said.

“I told you he would notice,” Captain Olsen said.

Hindenburg ran a quick analysis. Ah, the captain spoke to someone else. The human bragged about his AI Kaiser.

“Enemy soldiers are in the 10thPanzer-Grenadier Battalion station,” Olsen said. “We request—”

“You order him.” That sounded like General Mansfeld speaking.

“HQ orders you to check grid 2-CC-44,” Olsen said.

“That is far behind our lines,” Hindenburg said. “I will miss the final assault.”

“The enemy has other plans tonight,” Olsen said. “I’m surprised you haven’t already divined those plans, given this new data.”

Hindenburg seethed inwardly. The human berated him before General Mansfeld. He gave the new data mathematical weights. The enemy—

“The Sigrid codes, frequencies and equipment,” Hindenburg said. “The enemy desires them.”

“Yes,” Captain Olsen said. “You must hurry. The enemy combatants mustn’t get away with anything. In fact, they mustn’t get away at all.”

“These Sigrids here will be vulnerable if the Kaisers leave,” Hindenburg said.

“You have your orders,” General Mansfeld said. “A good soldier obeys immediately, without discussing it.”

“I hear and obey, General Mansfeld,” Hindenburg said. This was another secret message. He…sensed it with his highest-speed rationality program.

Without further ado, Hindenburg spun on his treads and headed back, crushing over an already flattened car, causing a tire to blow with a loud pop. Command must expect something devastating from the Americans to order him back like this. Or was this another test? It was possible. He had not yet figured out General Mansfeld, although he had long ago divined the nature of the fawning Captain Olsen. Humans were interesting subjects. They were also one of the key ciphers to the most interesting contest of all: the North American war.

TORONTO, ONTARIO

Sergeant Hans Kruger had never been more terrified in his life. The Turkish bullies had frightened him in high school. But the Turkish gangbangers hadn’t marched up and down a chamber, murdering everyone in sight.

The grenade explosions, the smell of gunpowder and the stench of urine shocked Hans. He wasn’t used to this kind of battle; this wasn’t like a video game. He’d cowered under his desk as the battalion operators died horribly one by one.

Now not one but two American soldiers walked in the room. He could see their boots and hear their barbaric speech. They spoke a low form of English. Of course, Hans had learned British English in high school. Any good Bavarian knew the language, although not in the guttural trash way the two monsters spoke it.

Hans tried to swallow, but he couldn’t. He stared into Luger’s glassy eyes. His friend was dead on the floor. He could have reached out and shut the eyelids, but Hans didn’t dare. Everyone here—

Hans groaned. He pressed his hands over his mouth and sealed in the second sound. But it was already too late.

An American barbarian knelt on one knee and aimed a gleaming bayonet at him. The American wore a helmet and he had the cold blue eyes of death. Hans had never seen eyes so brutal. This was a nightmare.

The American snarled words. Hans trembled, certain that death would claim him now. He never should have abandoned Freda. If he’d stayed with her, they would have married and he would have found a corporate job somewhere in Munich. There would be a crying brat in the apartment, but he could go to the bar most nights and get drunk. He might have even slipped away to the brothels sometimes…

Hans quailed as the American reached in and grabbed him by the shirt. Feebly, he struck at the man’s wrist, but this one was like a superhero in the movies. The blue-eyed American had irresistible strength and dragged him out. Then the American shouted and threw him face-first onto bloody tiles. The barbarian stood. Expecting the worst, Hans looked up at him.

“Stand!” the American said. “Get up before I plug you with a bullet.”

“Please,” Hans whispered. “I didn’t—”

A savage steel-toed boot smashed against his ribs from the other side. It knocked the air out of Hans and stole his ability to speak. Slowly, in agony, he turned his head. What he saw boggled the mind. The hardest eyes in the world—brown eyes like stone—stared down at him. The second American wore a blood-speckled feather from his right ear. Hans saw death in those eyes, and the remaining strength oozed away from him.

“Kick him again,” the first American said.

Something else struck Hans, an intense desire to live. He scrambled to his feet, and he stood there panting, hunched over. He clutched his ribs where the eagle-warrior had booted him.

The first American prodded him with the tip of the bayonet.

“Please,” Hans whispered in English. “Don’t kill me.”

“You understand me?” the blue-eyed American asked.

Hans bobbed his head up and down.

“You’re a drone operator?”

Hans was too terrified to lie. “Yes, yes, I run a Sigrid drone, a 12.7mm.”

“Sure,” the American said. “You know all about the equipment, right?”

“I know everything,” Hans said in a rush. Would they let him live? He’d do anything to keep on living. His gaze slid away from the dead surrounding him. These two—

“Download the critical stuff,” the American told him. “Take the codes, cycles, whatever, and put it on a memory stick. If you do it right, you’ll live. If you screw up any part of it, I’m sticking this into you.” The American showed off the bloody bayonet. “Tell me you understand.”

“I understand,” Hans whispered, with his mouth dry. And he did understand. This attack made total sense now. This was the drone weakness. It surprised Hans the Americans hadn’t tried something like this sooner, or the Canadians maybe. Yet the GD battle-superiority had been too much for the backward enemy to try this.

“I don’t care if I live,” the American told Hans. “Just so I can make your last hour in life a living Hell—if you fail me in any way.”

Hans nodded miserably. He believed the savage American. These people had fought off the Chinese and the Brazilians. They had won battles through animal courage and ferocity. These two must be little better than monsters. What would their lives mean to them? The chance to destroy a civilized man like himself must fill them with brutal joy. Look at the way these two had murdered everyone in the battalion. It was horrible, sick and depraved.

Yes, it was one thing to kill with a Sigrid and with a video set. But to come here in person…this was inhuman. The man staring at him was an animal with a gun and a knife. Hans wanted to groan. He hated knives and this creature would likely slice open his stomach from navel to ribs. The American would pull out his intestines…

“You’re scaring him,” the eagle-warrior said with a laugh.

“Yeah, well, we’d better hurry.”

“Hurry,” Hans agreed. He didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a firefight. Survival at all costs. He believed that and was committed to it. He’d survived the threat of marriage with Freda, well, by avoiding the legal and binding contract. He would survive this, too. There would be a way out. He could show them things. Yes! He needed to survive long enough to get away from these two. Surely, someone in America thought in a civilized manner. They used the lowborn animals like these two.

Hans flinched as the first American shoved him at an operator set. He banged his knuckles on it so they throbbed, but he kept himself from sucking on his hurt hand. What would he need to show an intelligent American so he could escape this horrible war?

An hour ago, Hans wouldn’t have believed something like this possible. Now… He never wanted to witness such butchery again. Heaven was a fable, but Hell could become all too real. He had just walked through Hell and survived it by hiding out of sight. That was the way to survive such madness.

Use your wits, Hans. Think carefully and get these Americans what they need most. Then you can bargain later and get out of this war altogether. Make yourself useful.

“He’s a shifty looking Kraut,” the eagle-warrior said. “Let’s kill him and find a different bastard.”

Hans turned around in horror. “No, no, I’ll get you what you need.”

“Let him work,” the first American said, the one with the horrible bayonet. “Then we need to figure out a way back to our side.”

Eagle-feather nodded, causing the blood-speckled thing to jiggle.

Hans swallowed. By grabbing what he’d need, he could buy himself the softest future possible. He sat down at his station and began to gather data and figure out which pieces of equipment he should take along for his new employers.

-6- Lake Ontario

TORONTO, ONTARIO

“Watch him,” Paul whispered. “I’m thinking we need to get this Kraut back to HQ alive.”

First Sergeant Kavanagh had been gauging Hans Kruger. The drone operator had collected gear and data with an obviously careful eye. The thin German had acted scared, he might even have whizzed himself during the firefight. Yet that didn’t instantly disqualify the enemy soldier in Paul’s eyes. Many men voided themselves in combat.

The human body was a funny thing. In the heat and squalor of combat, events seldom resolved themselves as they did in the movies. Men smelling worse than a urinal could perform acts of bravery. A mousey guy might end up doing the strangest and bravest things. A big lug of a man sometimes folded under pressure and broke down weeping.

Hans Kruger was a survivor. That was clear to Paul. If it took cowardice, this Kruger would play the coward. Yet if it called for a moment of great courage—and that was the only way to get out alive—then Paul suspected this GD mouse might become a momentary lion.

One should never figure he fully understood a fellow human being. Unlike leopards, people could change their spots, especially when it became a matter of life and death.

“Watch him do what?” Romo asked.

Paul adjusted his web belt. His blood brother couldn’t take the Kraut seriously, not after the man’s sniveling. That could be a mistake. You never knew out here.

“Keep an eye on him,” Paul said. “We don’t want to lose this guy because he gets away or because he does something half-brave and we’re forced to kill him.”

“Watch him,” Romo said, with a shake of his head. He shoved their captive just under his neck, propelling the German out of the slaughterhouse.

Paul followed warily. He’d noticed the Kraut listening to their words. That’s why he’d said what he just had. This Hun seemed to know his stuff, his remote-controlling gear, anyway. Paul bet someone back home would want to pick this Kraut’s brain. General Zelazny had believed so.

Darkness still held over Toronto. The big artillery pieces had stopped firing. Dawn—Paul checked his watch—was only forty-five minutes away. Combat was a funny beast. Time moved strangely during it, both slower and faster. Go figure. Still, forty-five minutes of darkness left. That wasn’t much time to get away and hide.

Paul stared at Lake Ontario. Where could they hide? The rear areas would soon be crawling with the enemy. He needed to get Hans Kruger back to American lines. The soldier had data, and he carried special equipment.

“We have to use the one-time pad,” Paul said.

Romo and the Kraut turned toward him.

“That’s the only way back home that I can see,” Paul said, pointing at the lake.

“You’re crazy, my friend,” Romo said. “The Germans have hovercraft and planes. We’ll never row across in time before they spot us.”

“You see the lake,” Paul said. “You see how big it is and that the far coast is ours?”

“Si,” Romo said.

“I’m guessing we have assets in it or on it,” Paul said. “Assets that can help us.”

Romo squinted. “No! I don’t want anything to do with submarines. I’ve seen K19 and other old war movies. Submarines are deathtraps. If we try to hide in one, the Germans will find and sink us. I know it.”

“We’re sure not going to hoof it home through these city streets,” Paul said.

“Amigo, have you been watching this time around? The Germans can figure out everything fancy. They have us beaten that way. We had to go back to straight infantry fighting to win this round. You stick to what works, si? Submarines—” Romo shuddered.

Paul knelt as he slipped off his rucksack. “We have to get him back right away. We may be the only ones who captured a drone operator.”

“Maybe—” Hans said in his slow English.

“Shut up!” Romo said, shoving the German’s head. “No one is asking you anything.”

The tall German hunched his shoulders, falling silent.

As he pulled out the one-time pad, Paul said, “Better handcuff him just in case.”

Romo pulled out plastic ties and bound the German’s wrists behind his back. He did it hard, so the plastic dug into the flesh.

Paul readied the one-time pad, put earphones over his head and readied the microphone. Then he gave a short-burst transmission, both to burn through any enemy jamming and to make it harder for the GD signals people to pinpoint them.

He waited for HQ to think about his question. Crickets chirped now that the artillery had fallen silent. The second ticked by. Paul knew their covering darkness would lift far too soon.

After several minutes, he received a return message. After ingesting what they’d said, he nodded to himself. Romo wasn’t going to like this. Paul didn’t know if he liked it himself. Time was running out for them, and once the sun rose—

He stowed the one-time pad back into the rucksack, shrugged the pack on and stood. “Are you ready?” he asked Romo.

“What’s the plan?” his blood brother asked.

“What I thought it would be,” Paul said.

Romo scowled. “Are you talking about water and subs?”

“Yeah,” Paul said. The last time he’d entered a sub had been off the waters of Hawaii. The Chinese had chased his team off the beach and nearly sunk the escape dinghy. Those had been ocean waters, much deeper he was sure than Lake Ontario. What kind of submarine could America have in the lake anyway? As far as he knew, the Great Lakes had been demilitarized…maybe until the GD invasion.

Guess we’ll find out what kind of sub.

Paul motioned at the lakeshore. Romo shoved a handcuffed Hans Kruger in that direction. Then the three of them set out for the lapping waves.

“I just thought of something,” Romo said.

“Yeah?”

“What do we use for a boat?”

“You’re not going to believe it,” Paul said.

“It’s that bad?”

“No,” Paul said. “But it means we’re going to be working hard for the next hour.”

Romo glanced at him. “Paddling? We’re going to paddle our way into the middle of the lake to die?”

“Yes and no.”

Romo raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Yes, we’re going to paddle for the middle of the lake,” Paul said. “No, I hope we’re not heading for our deaths.”

Before Romo could reply, the two LRSU men looked up. A noise in the distance, in the dark sky…helos, enemy gunships were coming.

“Put on your night vision goggles,” Paul said. They both put on their pairs. “You ready?”

For an answer, Romo slung his assault rifle over a shoulder.

Paul did the same with his rifle. Then each man grabbed one of Kruger’s arms, and they hustled their captive toward the shoreline.

USS KIOWA

In one particular, Captain Darius Green was unfit for the cramped command of the carbon fiber submersible. He was huge, a solid two-sixty in weight and six-nine in height. How anyone had ever seen fit to commission him here boggled the thoughts of anyone who gave it even a moment’s consideration.

The truth was that no man or woman had made such a decision. Navy protocol and computer errors had seen to it. Darius Green was a competent naval officer, but he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’d been to submarine school—that had been another computer error. His size simply made his appointment to the submersible a poor choice. Despite that, he’d worked hard to figure out the limits of his strange vessel.

Darius Green was a black man who had been born into the concrete, bankrupt jungle of Detroit. His father had run with the drug gangs, his grandfathers on both sides had been gangbangers. One died early in a turf war. The other died in prison. Darius Green had never met either of his grandfathers. He’d also never met his father, as the man had disappeared one night, presumed dead. His mother would have raised Darius if she’d been given the chance, but his uncle hadn’t let her. His dad’s brother had joined the Black Muslims of the Mustafa School. The man had known far too much about the ghettoes of Detroit.

So one day—Darius could still remember it—Cyrus Green had put Darius on his shoulder and marched outside to a waiting motorcycle. Darius had held onto his uncle’s back the entire trip to Chicago. The gangs had been just as bad there, but Uncle Cyrus had moved into a Black Muslim compound. He’d been a foot soldier in the Mustafa School movement. From Darius’s youth on, Uncle Cyrus had made sure he had discipline.

Darius practiced karate, reading the Koran and math. Uncle Cyrus had liberally used a leather belt on him and he’d beaten the lying and slothfulness out of Darius. Uncle Cyrus had died several years later, never getting to see Darius graduate from the compound’s high school.

His uncle’s death and the graduation had been many years ago. At this point in the war, Darius Green was thirty-two years old, a giant of a man with fierce convictions. He believed in the Mustafa School, Black Muslim movement, and he believed in the betterment of the black man by relying on his own hard work. He also knew that invaders came to steal his country, and he could work with the American white man to defend their united home. It hadn’t always been easy for Darius Green, but he’d taken his uncle’s dream and had made it his own.

Captain Green knew the USS Kiowa wasn’t much of a fighting submersible. It had four upgraded Javelin missiles on a single outer mount: the mount was in the place of where an old naval gun would have been on a WWII-era submarine. Kiowa lacked torpedoes of any kind. It wasn’t that kind of submersible, and frankly, it wasn’t big enough to carry internal torpedoes.

The truth was that only a few submarines had ever cruised in the Great Lakes. Most of those had patrolled the waters during WWII, the vessels built in port cities along the lakeshores. To go from the ocean to the Great Lakes took a long and torturous route. A submarine or a regular ship, for that matter, would first have to travel up the Saint Lawrence River. Then, like a salmon leaping its way upstream, a ship or sub would enter locks, traveling higher each time until finally it would be high enough to slip into Lake Ontario.

The difficulty meant that the GD hovercraft ruled the lake. The few exceptions were some converted US speedboats.

The USS Kiowa was a unique craft. It had begun its existence as a drug smuggling submersible. Several years before the war, US Customs had spotted the craft and swooped down with helicopters. Usually, the drug cartel members sank such a submersible. It only took a minute or two to scuttle the thing. The cargo went to the bottom, and as there was no evidence, there would be no conviction of drug smuggling. But this time, US Customs had caught the tiny three-man crew, and had captured the submersible. The machine had sat in dry dock for several years, used as a training aid. With the commencement last year of war, the Navy had commissioned the vessel, renaming it and outfitting it with military equipment.

Captain Green had one crew member and the situation aboard ship was cramped. He was too big to sit down properly in the head, having to lift his knees up in a disgraceful manner. The sub seldom stayed out for more than one night.

As the captain stood at his place before the radio, carefully hunched over so he didn’t bump his head, he blinked in astonishment at the message. The brass hats wanted him to surface during daylight and pick up a rubber dinghy full of fugitives. In his knowledgeable opinion, they were ordering him far too close to the GD-held shore during daylight.

“They’re killing us,” the first mate said, a short man by the name of Sulu Khan. “I don’t know why they think it’s wise, but they’re killing us.”

The last man aboard USS Kiowa was a wounded SEAL with a bloody bandage over his left eye. He lay propped out of the way. He was the only survivor from last night’s mission.

That’s what Captain Green did, run secret ops against the enemy. So far, he had successfully landed five teams against the Expeditionary Force. He did not take any undue risks, as operating in Lake Ontario against the high-tech Germans was hazardous enough.

“What are you thinking, Captain?” Sulu Khan asked. “Are we going to follow such madness to the letter?”

Captain Green’s nostrils flared. Surfacing during daylight to pick up rowing fugitives—by the sound of it, the GD hunted these three.

“They’re killing us,” Sulu repeated. He was a talkative fellow. “They’re killing us by this.”

It wasn’t duty to Uncle Sam that caused Captain Green to turn to the helm. He had discipline. The laws of the Prophet had taught him to lay down his life for his people if the need ever arose. Well, if the US fell to the GD, it was only a matter of time before the invaders reached Chicago. If how the enemy acted in North Africa toward Muslims were any gauge, the invading Europeans would destroy the Mustafa School in Chicago. According to High Command, the people in the dinghy carried vital information for the successful prosecution of the war.

Captain Green turned his hard-muscled bulk toward the helm. He had a large face with large features. His total largeness made the submersible seem even smaller than it was.

“If anyone does any killing today,” he said, “it is going to be me.” Darius Green spoke in an ultra-deep voice than seemed to rumble through a man’s body.

“Our Javelins against GD hovers…?” Sulu asked. “Begging your pardon, Captain—”

“That’s it. I’ve already decided.”

The short first mate stared at his captain.

Green became thoughtful. His were not just any Javelin missiles, but highly modified ones. Darius knew how GD officers thought. They were arrogant. He’d especially heard about the hover pilots. They were even more arrogant than the usual run of GD personnel. He did not believe the Germans would expect a submersible out here in Lake Ontario. Even better, they would not expect one with teeth, not the kind of teeth he possessed. If they tried to interfere with him, he would pray to Allah, aim the Javelins and send the hovers to the Hell they so richly deserved. In truth, he was more than a little tired of simply sneaking soldiers onto the enemy-held shore. He wanted to hurt the enemy himself.

“We have work to do,” Captain Green said. “So let’s start doing it.”

Sulu Khan studied his captain. “Aye, aye, sir,” the short man finally said. “It will be as you say.”

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

General Mansfeld wanted to pace in front of the battle screen. He understood it now: the reason for the seemingly senseless American frontal assault. He’d trapped powerful American formations in Greater Toronto, digesting them piece by piece. The remainder should have hunkered down, trying to survive for as long as possible.

It had been that way at Stalingrad during WWII. Field Marshal Paulus had tied down large Soviet formations by keeping the German Sixth Army defending for as long as they had. During that time, the entire German Southern Front had desperately sought to plug the rupture caused by Soviet Operation Uranus. What few people realized was that Stalin had attempted to net the entire German Southern Front that winter. The sacrifice of Sixth Army at Stalingrad had helped save the others—at least for another year.

That’s what the Americans in Toronto should have logically attempted. At least, that had been his—Mansfeld’s—belief until a few minutes ago. The American commander in Toronto had been cleverer than he realized. Who would have thought such a thing? Of all Americans, US Marines had a reputation of thinking the most with their balls and the least with their brains, including their generals. It was the nature of the beast. Marines were assault troops. Such combatants needed courage and ferocity above all else.

Yet… Mansfeld tapped the computer console. The Americans had staved off last winter’s defeat through cunning as much as through their fighting abilities. He should have remembered that.

The Marine general had gambled. The man must have initiated the full assault in order to slip elite US soldiers behind GD lines. General Mansfeld shook his head. One could hardly even call that a gamble. Gambles had a greater chance of success. This had been more like the last gasp of a dying man. Yet as galling as it was to admit, the gamble had been the correct thing to do.

A captain marched up and saluted him. The man stank of stale sweat, having been up for twenty-four hours already.

Mansfeld stared at the officer, finally giving him the barest of nods.

“General,” the captain said, “I beg to report that there is no one left alive in the 10th PGB controlling station.”

“Continue,” Mansfeld said.

“It appears that a squad of American commandos surprised them, sir. The lieutenant in charge of the investigation reports missing equipment.”

Mansfeld pressed his lips together. What would he do if he were the American commandos? Hmm, of course: they would do the obvious. “Did the commandos head for the water?”

The captain appeared surprised. “Yes, sir, that is correct. How did you know, sir?”

“You have ordered jets and hovercraft to sweep the lake?”

The captain bobbed his head, coughing discreetly. “Begging your pardon, sir, but you have given strict orders about how our hovers are supposed to and not supposed to use the lake.”

Mansfeld had indeed given such instructions. He didn’t want to give away the second invasion route too soon. If the Americans realized the extent of the GD amphibious capabilities…they might harden the Lake Ontario New York shoreline defenses. Hmm… The captain had a point. This officer thought things through.

“Use five Galahads,” Mansfeld said, “and three UAVs. That should be sufficient.”

“How far into Lake Ontario do you want to them to search, sir?”

“Either they kill the commandos—all of them,” Mansfeld said. “Or I give the Americans leave to kill them.”

“Sir?” the captain asked.

“This is a priority mission, Captain. They are not to try, but to do. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” the captain said.

“Make sure you put a good hovercraft team on this. I want to see the bodies, the commandos. And I want to see what sort of information they were able to find.”

“Yes, sir,” the captain said.

“You will keep me informed.”

The captain saluted and hurried away.

Mansfeld put his hands behind his back and peered at the battle screen. His forces pounded the shrinking Toronto Pocket. It should be a matter of days now. The trapped Americans had expended themselves last night. Once he dug them out of there, the drive to Detroit would commence in full fury.

LAKE ONTARIO

Paul paddled a small rubber dinghy over choppy water. Romo knelt beside him so their left and right thighs touched and his friend likewise paddled. The two LRSU men sweated in the brisk air. Behind them on the horizon, Toronto was a disappearing smudge.

Because of searching enemy helos earlier, they had gotten a late start. Finally, the helos had either touched down or swept along the shorelines in either direction. Paul and Romo had launched the dinghy then and paddled as swiftly as they could.

The captive lay on his belly, with his hands tied behind his back. He lay there wide-eyed, listening to everything that went on around him. They’d bagged the equipment in plastic, wrapping each piece and taping them tightly. Included among their booty were two GD one-man portable antiair missiles. Each launch tube and missile weighed fifty pounds, adding another hundred to the small craft.

Paul’s shoulders ached and the air burned down his throat. Every once in a while he flung his head to the side in order to toss sweat outward instead of letting it trickle into his eyes.

“Take five,” a winded Kavanagh said.

Both men set down their paddles, and the dinghy bobbed in the water.

The five Great Lakes combined to make the largest fresh body of water in the world. Together, they contained twenty-one percent of the world’s surface fresh water. The total surface area was 94,250 square miles, and it made up 10,500 miles of shoreline. That was roughly half of the Earth’s equator. Many Americans referred to the Great Lakes shoreline as the North Coast or as the Third Coast.

Although he just wanted to sit and recoup, Paul dug into his kit and chewed on another two aspirins. He needed these more often these days for too many aches and pains. He thought of aspirin as lubricants for his joints. They helped him keep going and they helped him push injured muscles. He grimaced to himself. He had two pieces of advice to anyone who wanted to be a LRSU man or who wanted to join Marine Recon. Those two pieces were 1) don’t ever get injured and 2) don’t get old. If a person followed just those two rules, he should do well in the service.

Romo glanced nervously over the side of the dinghy and into the green water. He shuddered and quickly looked away. “Drop me from the sky,” he muttered, “no problem. Send me through minefields or behind enemy lines, who cares? But ask me to float above miles of water… My friend, this is a terrible thing we’re doing.”

“It isn’t miles,” Paul said.

“It is enough to drown in.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I guess it is that.”

Romo let go of his paddle, put the palms of his hands on his thighs and looked up into the brightening sky. The sun had been climbing now for fifteen minutes. If felt as if the world woke up from yet another long night.

“We will die out here,” the Free Mexico assassin said.

“It’s possible,” Paul admitted.

Romo glanced at him. “It’s not comfort hearing that.”

“It’s possible you could die out here,” Paul said. “But me on the other hand, I have an oath to keep and therefore I’m off limits.”

“An oath to your wife?” Romo asked.

“Si,” Paul said, and he let a grin slide onto his face. He wished Romo would relax. The man’s nervousness was making him edgy. The slap of waves against the dinghy reminded him of better times. The sound of water dripping off his oars relaxed him.

The assassin went back to staring at the sky. He features became leaden, almost blank. Paul wondered what was wrong now. Then Romo began to speak in a low, flat voice:

“I had a woman once.”

Paul had been about ready to say that their rest time was over; time to paddle again. But there was something in his blood brother’s voice that stopped him.

“My woman was beautiful,” Romo said. Almost unconsciously, it seemed, the Mexican Apache lifted his hands and made wavy curves in the air to show a woman’s contours. “I loved her. I went to see her every weekend, at least. That was before I joined Colonel Valdez. We would go to the city and party, dancing, laughing and seeing the shows. There were casinos…” Romo turned to Paul. “She had luck in her breath. I know you’ll laugh at that, but it was true. Whenever she blew on the dice, I won. Later…” Romo stared out over the lake.

“What happened?” Paul asked.

“What always happens?”

“You marry the woman and live happily ever after.”

“I’m not Paul Kavanagh,” Romo said. “I was just a stupid Army soldier in love with the wrong kind of woman. She loved money, and although I took bribes and skimmed from my colonel, I did not have enough to satisfy her. No, my friend, she found a cartel gunman who gave her jewelry, furs and fancy meals. She cheated behind my back. I must have known, but I didn’t want to know. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sure,” Paul said.

Romo sighed. “I loved her like you couldn’t believe. I slipped away sometimes and risked going AWOL. But I had money like I said. I knew whom to bribe in order to sell armored cars, machine guns—you name it. One night, I was going to surprise her. I drove two hundred miles to the city and went to her favorite bar. There, as I waited in the shadows, I saw her on the arms of the cartel gunman. They laughed, and he would take her chin just so, turn her head and kiss her on the lips. I watched, and I became enraged with jealousy. Instead of marching to her and confronting them, I waited. Something changed in me that night. Something shriveled in my heart and began…I don’t know.”

“What happened?” Paul asked.

“I followed them through the city. It was easy. First, I went to my car and took my gun. I waited until they went to a hotel room and I crept under a window outside their room. How stupid is that? I heard them, of course. What had I been expecting? The two made love. You have no idea how much I loved her, how much I waited each day, longing to touch her silky skin.”

Romo shook his head. “I went crazy. How do you say it? I lost my mind. In the end, I pulled out my gun, kicked in the door and shot the cartel man in the chest. She screamed, and I aimed my gun at her. I don’t know. I didn’t really plan it. I wanted to scare her so badly, and I was yelling. The next thing I knew I heard a boom. It was the loudest sound of my life. I had shot her in the throat. It was an accident. I hadn’t meant to. But, but, I think the crazy side of me had wanted to teach her a lesson she would never forget. It was I who never forgot.”

As the lake’s waves bobbed the dinghy, Romo glanced at Paul.

Kavanagh had half-expected tears in his friend’s eyes. Instead, the assassin’s eyes were bone dry, although there was a far-off look to them.

“I quit the Army,” Romo said. “How could I go back? I had killed the woman I loved. It stained me. It changed me. In the years to come, I became a contract killer. Then the civil war grew hot and the Chinese filled up Mexico. I know one thing, my friend. I have one trade, one single ability over any other. I can kill because I have a black heart. Sometimes I think about it, but I can never go back to being the man I was and to being a man who can love again.”

Paul had no idea what to say, so he remained silent.

“You have a rare gift in your wife and son,” Romo said quietly.

Paul nodded. He agreed with that. He’d fought for them and struggled hard, and he would die for them if he had to.

“Now out here on the lake I wonder if my sins have finally caught up with me,” Romo said. “I am floating above miles of seawater and—”

Paul turned because he heard a noise. Likely, Romo heard it too, because the assassin fell silent. The sound was unmistakable: the heavy fans of distant GD hovercraft.

“There,” Romo said, pointing back toward the smudge of Toronto. “They’ve found us. I was right. My sins have finally caught up with me. I am sorry you had to be here when it happened.”

Paul ground his teeth together, and he picked up his oar. “Start paddling.”

“Why?” Romo asked, almost in a listless voice. “We have no chance.”

“Because we don’t know if they’ve spotted us or not yet, you idiot,” Paul said. “We don’t have any electronic signatures for them to home in on. They just have their eyes and we’re extremely low on the water. Now start paddling.”

“I understand your words,” Romo said. “But where are we paddling to? I don’t see any submarine coming to our rescue.”

Paul glanced at his open compass. “We’re paddling for a rendezvous point. If we quit now, it’s a certainly that we’ll never reach it. But if we do paddle, there is always a chance we’ll make it.”

Romo sighed, and almost as an afterthought, he picked up his paddle. “I killed my woman, and through it I made a bargain with the Devil. He lets me be as I bring him more sacrifices. You, my friend, cherish your life because you have your woman and your son, and it gives your heart such fierce strength that the Devil doesn’t yet have the power to destroy you. Which of us made the better bargain?” Romo shrugged. “Yes, let us row and see if we can cheat the hangman one more time.”

“Good idea,” Paul said.

The two LRSU men dug their paddles into the choppy water, and once more, the dinghy surged toward the New York shore. The race was on, and the hovercraft had all the advantages.

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

Lieutenant Teddy Smith out of London piloted the Galahad 3C1 hover. The five machines of C Troop had spread out in a fan formation. Their number one machine—his—was on the farthest left of the formation.

The Galahad hovers were unique to the German Dominion military. They were fast, two-man craft, used as gadflies on any level terrain: plains, sea or ice. The commander piloted the craft, and most in the GD referred to him as a hover jockey. The other crew member was the gunner.

Sergeant Holloway had left his station and opened the outer hatch. His torso stuck out as he used high-powered binoculars to search for a boat full of enemy commandos.

Giant fans supplied the Galahad with lifting power. The machine boasted an armored skirt, an autoloading 76mm cannon firing rocket-assisted shells. It also had a 12.7mm machine gun for anti-infantry use. That made it similar to the Chinese hovers. The difference was in the smaller size, the advanced electronic gear and high-speed computers assisting in maneuver and mobile firing. The Galahads boasted greater speed than similar Chinese models, but much less armor.

Speed was the Galahad’s virtue, and aggressive tactics performed by bold young men.

Lieutenant Smith had the famous English courage. It had once allowed the tiny country to rule an inordinate amount of the world just a little over a century and a half ago. Smith knew that Holloway had eyes like a seagull hunting for scraps. If the Americans were near, the sergeant would spot them.

At that moment, a ping alerted Smith, a new sound for him. The noise came from just under the screen. Their craft had a new addition: sonar. Like old American destroyers, they had a towed array to put the sonar far away from the noisy fans. Its main purpose was in locating mines, torpedoes and other underwater devices. They had been practicing over the water much more lately.

“Hello,” Smith said. He studied the sonar. He wasn’t seeing a metal object. Lieutenant Smith snapped his fingers. He’d read a GDN report three weeks ago. The Americans used carbon fiber submersibles. Could the Americans have stationed such a submersible in Lake Ontario? By the sonar-pings he was picking up, the answer must be yes.

“Think you can hide from a Jack Tar, do you? I’m thinking not.” Smith leaned toward the hatch and the pair of legs standing in plain sight.

“Sergeant!” he shouted.

Holloway ducked down. The man’s brown hair was blown back on his head.

“See that?” Smith asked, pointing at the sonar screen.

Holloway’s gaze took in the images, and he nodded.

Smith gave him the object’s coordinates. “Search in that direction and I’ll think you’ll find a small boat nearby.”

“Do you actually think we can take out a submarine?” Holloway asked.

Smith shook his head. “We won’t have to.” He picked up a microphone. “Our sauerkraut commander gave us air cover, remember? I’ll let the planes destroy the submarine while I call Johnny to bring in the rest of the troop.”

“Good thinking, Lieutenant.”

“Find those commandos,” Smith said. “We don’t want to lose them.” He chuckled dryly. “Now that we know where this sneaky bastard of a submersible is hiding, we’ll play the game to our tune.”

“Roger that,” Holloway said, giving a salute in the tight confines of the hover compartment before poking his torso back outside.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

“General,” a captain said.

Walther Mansfeld sat outside on a fourth-story veranda, with his legs crossed as he smoked a cigarette. It was pretty out here in his immediate vicinity, with red, yellow and purple tulips. A cool breeze blew over devastated Ottawa, the captured capital of Canada. The tallest buildings were shells now, many with only one side. The Canadians had fought stubbornly here a few weeks ago, but had finally run out of ammunition and food. Those soldiers now languished in a prisoner of war camp in Newfoundland.

Several other officers sat at glass tables, with uniformed young women acting as waitresses. The soft murmuring from the tables continued even as the captain waited before his commanding general.

Mansfeld drew a deep breath of cigarette smoke into his lungs. Normally, he didn’t indulge. It was a vulgar habit and the nicotine overstimulated his mind. The commando attack behind the lines in Toronto troubled him. Right now he had a decisive edge over the Americans, but if they ever learned to jam enough drones well enough—he needed to begin reconfiguring the operational strategy, given better American electronic warfare. He had a feeling the Americans would win this little commando game this round. The optimum reconfiguration would include even greater speed of attack. The longer the campaign lasted, the more likely became the possibility of the Americans gleaning the information or components they needed to begin serious drone jamming.

The captain cleared his throat, and he moved nervously up and down on his feet.

First mashing out the half-smoked cigarette, Mansfeld looked up and said, “Yes?”

“The hover troop has spotted a submersible, General,” the captain said.

“Interesting,” Mansfeld said. He hadn’t expected that.

“We have three UAVs on task,” the captain said.

“Call in fighter-bombers,” Mansfeld said. “Destroy the submersible and capture the commandos. I want to discover what they know.”

The captain saluted and hurried back to the operations center.

Mansfeld glanced at the crushed cigarette, with smoke curling from the mashed end. He must nip this in the bud, and Army Group A must leap forward and capture Detroit, sealing the Southern Ontario Peninsula from the Americans. Then he would unleash the real attack and catch the enemy with their trousers around their ankles.

USS KIOWA

“Do you think they know we’re down here?” asked the first mate, Sulu Khan.

Captain Darius Green rested his big hands on either side of the screen. It showed ships in fuzzy red or blue shapes that pulsated as they moved. Deep scowl lines showed on his forehead. Two hovers waited out there, a little outside the range of his modified Javelins. If he surfaced, the hovers could swoop in fast.

“If they know we’re here,” Sulu said, “there might be more of them on their way. We have four missiles and that’s it, Captain.”

“They don’t know we’re down here,” Darius said. A hover wasn’t a destroyer or even an advanced patrol boat. Would a GD hover have underwater detection gear? It seemed unlikely.

Darius noticed Sulu glancing at him. Sweat beaded the small man’s forehead.

“How do you know they don’t know, sir?”

Darius grinned tightly. “What’s our boat made of?” he asked.

“Uh, carbon fiber, sir,” Sulu said.

“They can’t see carbon fiber on sonar or radar.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Our side couldn’t see us,” Darius said.

Sulu laughed weakly. “Hello, Captain. Where have you been the last few weeks? These Germans—”

Darius slapped one of his big hands against the console. “Keep a civil tongue in your head, mister, or I’ll make you wish that you had.”

Sulu gulped nervously before bobbing his head. “Yes Captain.”

“They don’t know we’re here,” Darius told him. “They must see the dinghy.”

“Uh… can I ask a question?”

Darius glanced at the little man.

“If the German can see the dinghy, why aren’t they swooping in to capture them?”

Darius rubbed his chin. He could reach the commandos in minutes. He hadn’t done so yet because those two hovers troubled him. Were the hovers waiting for backup?

“We don’t have a choice,” Darius finally said. “We’re surfacing and picking up the cargo.”

Sulu glanced at him sidelong, hesitating before saying: “I hope you know what you’re doing, Captain.”

“If you have any doubts, pray to Allah,” Darius said.

“Is that Navy regulations, sir?”

Darius sneered at Sulu. He was in the white man’s Navy, and he listened to most of the orders given him. But no man or woman could order or enforce the order for him to stop praying to Allah. There were some things outside the bounds of political entities or military law. They could task his body, but not his soul, never his soul.

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

“They’re making their play,” Smith said, as he watched the sonar.

Holloway sat in his gunner’s chair to the right, behind and above Smith. The gunner controlled both the 76mm cannon and the heavy machine gun.

Smith glanced back at his sergeant, grinning. “We have them.”

Holloway nodded tightly.

Smith faced forward again. The sergeant was good with his weapons, but the man was wound too tightly for comfort’s sake. It was as if they played rugby for his sister’s virginity. Holloway never smiled during action and said even less.

Smith picked up the microphone and alerted the operators controlling the UAVs. One patrolled almost overhead. The second sped here and the third was minutes away. There were fighter-bombers coming, too, but Smith doubted they would need the bigger planes. After switching off the UAV channel, he called his mates. The rest of the troop—the other three hovers—raced across the waves to join the two of them stationed here.

First wiping the palms of his hands across his trousers, Smith re-gripped the controls. The Galahads used speed, as they had little armor and no beehive flechettes to knock down incoming missiles or shells like the tanks did or the overrated Kaisers. The hovers could spew anti-radar packets and had a nifty jammer, but mainly they had the world’s best jockeys and the nimblest craft in any military.

“There’s a good fellow,” Smith said under his breath. “Get ready for the show.”

LAKE ONTARIO

Paul lay flat in the bobbing dinghy, with his binoculars trained on the nearest hovercraft.

“They’re still out there,” Paul said.

“I see the bird,” Romo said.

Paul glanced at him. The assassin lay on his back, with his binoculars aimed at the sky.

“L-look,” Hans stuttered in English.

Paul and Romo glanced at their captive and then stared where he looked. Water stirred at the spot.

Romo cursed in Spanish.

Paul’s eyes widened. A blue-green submersible pushed out of the water, surfacing fifty feet away from them.

“I hope it’s ours,” Romo said.

“It is,” Paul said. “See the little flag over there?” An American flag had been painted on the craft.

“You have good eyesight for an old man,” Romo said.

A hatch opened on the submersible, and a man with a bloody bandage popped up. He waved at them, and shouted across the water.

Before answering, Paul resumed his former position and trained the binoculars on the hovers. They still haven’t moved. Could it be the hovers didn’t see them? No. He doubted that. The GD invaders played their own game.

“It’s coming,” Romo said.

Paul craned his neck, staring up into the sky. He looked in the general direction where Romo trained the binoculars. He saw it at the same instant he heard the distant whine. With his own binoculars, Paul looked up. A knot tightened in his gut. The UAV carried bombs or torpedoes.

Dropping the binoculars, pitching them a little too hard, Paul heard them plop. Damnit, he’d thrown them overboard. The binoculars sank out of view. He’d never get those pair back. Paul lunged and grabbed a GD portable antiair missile. While on his belly, he flipped open the control panel.

“It’s diving at us,” Romo said, with his binoculars still trained on it.

Paul twisted around and surged up to his knees. The rubber dinghy was an unstable platform and wobbled. Paul fought for balance and his fingers loosened their grip. If the missile went overboard like his binoculars…they’d never get out of his this one alive.

Their captive made gobbling noises.

The German understood their danger. Paul didn’t have time to shrug or worry. His fought for his balance, almost let go of the trigger, but brought the wobbling dinghy under enough control to stabilize himself. He settled the portable tube onto his right shoulder. The GD version was a lot like the latest Blowdart. First glancing back, Paul shifted his position a little. He had to make sure the back-blast didn’t destroy the rubber boat or flame one of them.

Clicking the controls, turning it on, Paul aimed upward and heard the beep. The thing was fast. It already had radar lock-on. “You little bastard,” Paul said under his breath. He eased his index finger against the trigger. This one resisted until suddenly it moved. The launcher shuddered and the missile popped out. A second later, the solid fuel rocket engaged, and orange fire flamed out the back. The missile climbed fast, heading up into the sky.

Not waiting to see what happened, Paul lurched to the second launcher. He began readying it, but raised his torso and the launcher slowly in order to keep his balance throughout the procedure.

An explosion sounded from the sky.

“Hit!” Romo shouted. “You destroyed it.”

Paul grinned savagely.

Romo dropped the binoculars and picked up an oar. He began paddling, working them closer to the waiting submersible and the SEAL shouting at them.

Paul aimed the last GD Blowdart. He searched until he had a beep. Then he waited.

“Fire,” Romo said, breathing hard as he paddled. “Fire the thing.”

Then Paul saw the second UAV. He nodded to himself, checked where the back-blast would go and shifted his position. He heard another radar lock-on beep and pulled the trigger. The rocket climbed.

Paul saw metallic flutters up there, a second’s flash in the sunlight. The UAV must have launched an anti-radar packet. He couldn’t do anything about that. Either the missile had good tech or—

Paul pitched aside the empty tube. He heard it plop into the water. Then he grabbed a paddle and dug the blade into the lake. The two LRSU men forced the dinghy closer to the waiting submersible.

“Do you think—” Romo shouted.

Before his blood brother could finish the thought, Paul heard an explosion in the sky.

Romo laughed, and he grinned at Paul. “We’re going to make it. We outfoxed them one more time.”

“Here’s hoping,” Paul said, and he dug the blade into the water with everything he was worth.

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

“It’s our game now,” Lieutenant Smith from London said. He’d just witnessed the destruction of two UAVs. “It’s up to us to finish it.”

“They’re cagey bastards,” Holloway said grimly.

“Neptune’s beard,” Smith said into the microphone, “a two-prong approach.”

“Roger,” Smith heard in his headphones. The lieutenant of the GDN Galahad 3/C/2 roared into battle with him.

“Ready the cannon,” Smith told Holloway.

“You can bet I have a present for them, sir.”

“I doubt they were expecting us,” Smith said. “Now we’re going to show them who has the rights to this batch of water. Rule Britannia,” he added.

Holloway didn’t answer as he squinted at his control screen.

USS KIOWA

“They had planes waiting,” Sulu shouted in the cramped compartment. “Now the hovers are going to get us.”

“Our guests have teeth,” Captain Green said. “I’ve told you before that Allah watches his own. Those were my prayers being answered.”

“Yes, sir,” Sulu said.

Captain Green laughed in a low-throated manner that had chilled pedestrians in Chicago before. “Let’s show the invaders that we are from the windy city and exactly what that means.”

“I’m not from Chicago,” Sulu said. “I’m from Springfield.”

Darius Green wasn’t listening. His eyes were on the control screen. He’d been waiting for something like this. The invaders had come a long ways to get to Lake Ontario. The Navy had given him a flimsy sub and an escort job. Allah hadn’t raised him to chauffer warriors to battle. He was a warrior. This was hardly his first battle, either, but he’d never fought with modern weapons before. In Chicago, he’d fought with fist, club and blade. Now he battled with missiles and wits.

“Look!” Sulu shouted. “There are more hovers on their way here.”

Darius’s eyes narrowed. He saw the blips. He had a decision to make and he needed to make it now. How many missiles did he use on each hover? Ideally, he should use one missile for each machine. But the GD vehicles, the GD military, had better tech, particularly electronics than America possessed.

Sighing heavily, Darius Green made his decision. He would have to trust to Allah to see him through. One thing he knew: he wanted to kill the enemy, not just wound them. That helped him make the decision.

“I’m ready,” Captain Green said. “Are you?”

LAKE ONTARIO

Paul Kavanagh could have reached out and banged the submersible with his oar when the first modified Javelin launched.

“Jump!” the man with the bloody bandage shouted from the sub’s hatch. “We have to get out of here.”

“Just a little closer,” Paul told Romo. “None of this matters if we don’t get our prisoner and his equipment into the boat.”

“Jump!” the man shouted. “Jump! We have to leave.”

Together, Paul and Romo paddled, shoving the dinghy against the submersible’s side. Paul dropped his oar into the water, grabbed a rope and tossed it at the waiting sailor. The man grabbed and might have caught the rope. But at that moment, a second Javelin launched from the mount. The Navy man flinched at the hissing noise and the rope dropped out of his reach.

Romo paddled, and that twisted the dinghy, shoving it against the submersible and then pushing them away.

Paul coiled the rope madly.

With his hands behind his back, Hans Kruger twisted around to watch the hovers. He swore in German, and he seemed to be weighing odds. Maybe he was thinking about jumping overboard.

Paul threw the rope again. He expected another Javelin to launch. It did with a hiss. This time, the one-eyed man caught the rope and pulled the dinghy tight against the sub.

An explosion in the distance made Paul turn. A hovercraft burned. Another hiss told him of the fourth launch.

Romo pulled out a wicked-looking blade, with serrated edges, teeth like a saw. He grabbed one of the prisoner’s forearms. The man sobbed in German, shaking his head, pleading. With a short chop, Romo deftly sliced the prisoner’s plastic ties.

“Jump,” Romo told him. “Climb aboard the sub.”

Hans Kruger blinked at the distant hovers.

Paul saw something in the prisoner’s eyes. With the flat of his hand, he knocked the man against the back of his head. “Jump!” he said, in an ugly voice. “Or I’ll kill you right here and leave them your carcass.”

Fear washed over the prisoner’s face. He must have believed Kavanagh. Hans Kruger leaped for all he was worth and scrambled onto the slippery desk. The one-eyed man climbed out of the hatch and made way. Hans hesitated for a fraction of a second. Then he slid into the hole and disappeared into the submersible.

Another Javelin hit another enemy hover.

Paul didn’t have time to watch. Romo leaped and made it, and Paul began pitching him equipment.

“There are more hovers out there!” the sailor shouted at him.

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I figured as much. Now shut up so I can concentrate.”

Paul pitched the last few pieces of equipment. Romo dropped each one down the open hatch. Finally, Paul jumped and made it onto the slippery sub. It was a mere foot above the water. Once, a wave slapped up high enough to spill water into the hatch. Was this thing big enough to hold all three of them?

The sailor disappeared into the hatch.

Paul looked back. Two hovers burned on the waters. A third machine roared toward them, skimming across the waves. Its cannon belched flame. For a second, Paul could only watch. The projectile screamed near as Paul crouched on the submersible. His guts tightened. Then the shell fell fifteen feet short of him. A waterspout shot up and droplets struck him in the face.

The distant hover’s cannon belched flame once more.

Paul might have stayed to watch, but the sub lurched and began to sink. Lake water sloshed against Paul’s boots. That tore him free of his momentary paralysis. Thrusting his legs through the nearby hatch, Paul climbed down a short ladder.

“Close it!” a man shouted in an impossibly deep voice. “Close the hatch. We’re diving.”

Paul reached up and banged the hatch shut. He turned the valve until it clicked. Then he slid down the rest of the way.

A small corridor led to an incredibly cramped main compartment. Paul spied a massive black man in a Navy uniform. The man’s size was a shock.

“Are you the captain?” Paul asked.

The man nodded a large head. He concentrated on his screen and worked controls. A much smaller man worked other controls. Romo, the prisoner and the bloody-faced sailor crouched out of the way. The submersible aimed downward, and they headed underwater.

“Are you going to be okay with all of us in here?” Romo asked.

“If you shut up I might be,” the captain said. “There are more of them out there and I’m all out of missiles. We’re going to have to sneak away—if Allah will allow us.”

With a scowl, Romo glanced at Paul.

Paul shrugged, moving beside Romo and whispering, “Why don’t you see to the prisoner. I’ll start sorting out the equipment.”

Hans Kruger shrank back from Romo, but he didn’t offer any resistance.

Paul grabbed the first plastic-wrapped piece of stolen equipment. As he did, he heard gurgling water outside the craft and the hiss of the submersible diving. He didn’t like this one bit. Could they get away? This didn’t sound like a regular submarine. The diving was more immediate, and it felt as if the water would burst through any second and down them like rats.

Paul glanced back, staring at the huge captain. He sure hadn’t expected this. And what had the man said? “If Allah will grant them mercy.” Where had they gotten a Navy captain like him?

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

In an orange life preserver, Lieutenant Teddy Smith floated in Lake Ontario, with Sergeant Holloway nearby. Thirty feet away, their Galahad hover slid underwater.

They’d fooled the first Javelin missile. It had darted past and exploded harmless in the lake. They hadn’t fooled the second one coming on the first’s heel. The second missile had been enough to sink them. He might not have made it out of the compartment, but Holloway had shouted and dragged him through the emergency hatch.

“Bad luck,” Smith said.

Holloway wouldn’t look at him. The sergeant was furious. One could see it on his face. He kept looking into the distance, searching, but neither of them saw a submarine.

The other hovers neared their position.

Sighing, Smith took out a flare pistol and aimed it at the sky. He fired, and the cartridge popped into the air before bursting red.

Two of the hovers swished past at high speed, moving as furiously as wasps. The last one slowed, and Smith began to wave his arms. He would have told Holloway to wave his, too, but the sergeant was simply in too black a mood to have complied.

It looked as if the enemy had beaten them. Much worse, though, he’d had a hover shot out from under him. That was terribly bad luck. Would he get another machine? Or was his days as a hover jockey over?

“They’ll give us another, Sergeant,” Smith said, talking as much for his own benefit as for Holloway’s. “Captain Johnny will do right by us. You can be sure of him.”

Holloway never even acknowledged the words. That was poor sportsmanship. The man was from Scotland, though. It showed in times like this. Scots never did understand good sportsmanship.

I’ll get another hover. This was bad luck, is all. I’ll make it up, and then no one will ever shoot another hover out from under me again.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

General Mansfeld heard the news an hour later in the main situational room. Orderlies and officers worked quietly around him. One man whispered into another officer’s ear. The listener faced him, straightened his tie and told him.

Mansfeld took the information in silence. Finally, he nodded, and he walked away to his study. The Americans had gained a coup. He felt it in his bones, and he’d known a day like this might come. In a campaign of this magnitude, it was inevitable. Now for the big question. Would the Americans know what to do with their coup?

It’s a matter of speed. Can I complete the campaign before they learn how to deal with our drones? That has always been the question.

He would win the campaign. Of that, he had no doubt. It was simply a matter of whether he would do so decisively or with just an operational level victory.

General Mansfeld’s eyes gleamed coldly. One thing he would make sure of. One way or another, this Len Zelazny would not live to see the outcome of his ploy.

-7- Stall

PARIS, ILE DE FRANCE

John Red Cloud yawned, surprising a nearby squirrel. The furry creature dropped its acorn and scurried up a tree, turning to stare down at him.

Easing out of his sleeping bag, John stretched and scratched himself. He was in a small forest ten kilometers outside of Paris. To his left, a stream hissed past reeds.

After killing the CID agents, John had driven their BMW to a mall. The agents’ wallets had supplied him with credit cards and money. He’d purchased a sleeping bag, clothes, foodstuffs and other items he needed. He’d carried the bags to the car and driven outside the city, parking off the road. He’d left the corpses in the car and hiked many kilometers that night.

For the next several days and nights he camped here beside the stream, waiting. Few people had true patience. As a hormagaunt, he had more than most. As one walking the path of death, he savored his last few days of life.

Deciding that today was the right moment, he donned a new shirt and tie, suit and dress shoes. He left the pistols, knives, agent IDs, everything. He slipped on sunglasses and a hat, hiked to the nearest road and started walking to Paris.

After an hour he took off his jacket and draped it over an arm. After another half hour a Bristol stopped. It was a boxlike, electric-powered British-made car. A young woman drove. She wore a kerchief and sunglasses and had a long, graceful neck.

Leaning across to the passenger side window, she asked in French, “Would you like a ride?”

John said he would.

“You have an accent,” she said.

He touched the door handle. “I’m from Quebec. Is that acceptable?”

She laughed. She seemed a happy-go-lucky girl, twenty-five perhaps. John climbed in and off they buzzed down the road. She chattered merrily and asked him all kinds of questions. He gave simple answers.

“You’re Indian,” she finally said, “a North American Indian.”

“I’m an Algonquin warrior,” he said. Those on the path of death did well to speak the truth. It amplified their inner strength.

She laughed with delight.

“You are very brave,” he told her.

“Please,” she said. “I’m a wonderful judge of people. The way you act so solemn, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re a comedian.”

That almost made John smile. Instead, he simply shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “The day is nice and you needed a ride.”

This was death luck, John knew. Because his resolve remained steely, it generated power. The power acted differently on different people. It blinded the woman to the truth because she did not wish to see reality for what it was.

She dropped him off in a suburb of Paris, one much older than where he had slain the CID agents.

John thanked her and watched the Bristol scoot away. Then he put on his jacket and strolled down the street. This one had large maple trees so he walked in shade the entire time.

His information was two years old. It might well be stale. People changed with the times, with new ideas and with successes or failures. This was a gamble, he knew. John shrugged, and he turned onto a well-kept path. Rose bushes abounded, each bush cut to an exact height and with large flowers. Was that a good or bad omen?

John decided it was good. He believed it showed a personality that didn’t like change. Did that mean the owner of the house was an ardent French nationalist? Possibly. It might also mean someone who hated Germans, which wasn’t quite the same thing. In any case, it was time to see if the secret service agent could help him or not.

While climbing the three steps, John almost decided to revert to smiling again. No. That would be a mistake. He was the hormagaunt. The more he hewed to his true self, the better and safer he would be. Boldness would give him an advantage. He had already wasted too much time.

He pressed the doorbell and heard chimes inside. Too much time passed. He leaned close to the door and listened. It had a metal safety screen, which indicated a cautious personality. He couldn’t hear anyone or anything inside. Finally, he knocked loudly.

After a few seconds, slow footsteps approached.

“Who is there?” a woman asked, an older lady, he would guess.

“I’m John Red Cloud from Quebec,” he said.

She paused before saying, “The name is not familiar to me.”

“It will be to your son,” he said.

“You are a friend of his?”

He had guessed right, that this was the mother. “I am,” John said, “a long lost friend, a hidden friend.”

She paused again. Then the lock turned and the inside door opened. Because of the sunlight, John couldn’t see through the security door. He smelled baking bread, though, a warm and friendly odor.

“I don’t recognize you,” she said, sounding closer and yet invisible to him.

“Your son is Peter Francis,” John said. “He works for the French secret service. I met him in Quebec two years ago.”

“Oh, my,” she said. “Well…he’s not home.”

“I realize that. I need to give you a package.” He needed to get past the security door.

“Oh.” The woman hesitated. “Very well, leave it on the porch.”

A ghost of a smile tugged at John’s mouth. It wasn’t out of happiness, but the sad realization that his death luck might be departing. It had been a risk waiting so many days. A hormagaunt’s luck only lasted so long and no longer. Yet he had needed to lie low. Every instinct he possessed had told him so.

“My instructions were to put the package into your hands,” he said.

“I’m—”

“This is very important,” John added.

“Oh, dear,” she said, sounding miffed. “If you insist, I suppose.” A lock clicked and she eased open the security door, sticking out a thin old hand with trembling fingers.

John ripped the door open and stepped inside, forcing her back. She wore a red dress with thick stockings, had gray hair and showed shocked surprise and then dismay.

“Everything will be fine,” he said, closing the security door behind him.

“Please,” she said, “you must go outside and—”

He gripped a frail, upper arm and marched her deeper into the house, slamming the inner door shut.

“What are you doing?” she complained.

“You made the right decision,” John told her. “I’m your son’s friend. I’m France’s friend. Now sit down while I explain what you’re going to do.”

She would phone her son and tell him to hurry home. Then John would speak to him. If his death luck held, the son would agree and the assassination plot would go forward. If he had waited too long to strike…

Maybe it was time to the pray to the old gods. No. If they were real, they had already failed him once already. He would stick to the death power and win or lose on its strength alone.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

GD Sergeant Hans Kruger woke up with a start. A burly guard with a nightstick dangling from his belt shook him awake.

Hans stared up in fright at the sour-looking individual. The man had a crew cut and a face like dough, with a trickle of fluid oozing from the left eye. Up near the ceiling and behind the guard’s head glared a single light bulb.

“Get up,” the guard said. The man had rank garlic breath.

Trying not to make a face due to the foul odor, Hans sat up in a sterile room. He had a cot with a threadbare blanket, a steel stink and five feet of pacing room. It was worse than a monk’s cell. And all he had for clothes were white jockey shorts. They’d taken everything else.

He’d entered the cramped submarine yesterday morning and traveled to the other shore of Lake Ontario. They hadn’t docked, but about three hundred meters from shore he’d jumped into a speedboat together with his two captors. He still remembered the boat’s bottom scraping up against a muddy beach. Several cars waited for them on a nearby road. His two captors had jogged to a different vehicle, and it had followed his car. He hadn’t seen those two since. Last night, Mr. Nightstick or his twin took his clothes and watched him shower as he’d washed with sandpaper-like soap. He’d spent most of the night staring up at the black ceiling of his cell, wondering what these changes would bring him.

“Go that way,” Mr. Nightstick said.

Hans wanted to ask for clothes, but he was too afraid. On naked feet, he padded through empty corridors of white tile. His eyes felt as gritty as last night’s soap and his stomach grumbled. What did they plan to do to him?

“Stop,” the guard said.

The man unlocked a heavy door, opening it and pointing inside a room.

Hans entered, and he heard the door slam shut behind him. There was a table, two chairs and a mirror along a wall. He sat down, put his hands on the table and waited. He didn’t look at the mirror. He suspected others stood behind it, watching him.

Time passed, and Hans shivered at the coolness of the cell. His stomach rumbled several times and he wanted a drink as his mouth was dry and stale.

Abruptly, a key turned and the heavy door swung open. Three people walked in: Mr. Nightstick, a narrow-faced man in his thirties with a brown suit and a goatee and an exceptionally pretty woman in a green uniform with a white blouse. Mr. Goatee took the chair across the table from him. Mr. Nightstick stood near the door, crossing his arms and staring belligerently. The woman walked around the table and stood behind him.

Hans twisted around to watch her. She didn’t wear pants, but a dress, nylons and heels. She had exceptional legs, better than the Turkish prostitutes he’d used.

The man with the goatee cleared his throat.

Hans faced him.

“Don’t worry about Ms. Norton,” the man said. “She’s a psychologist and will assess the truthfulness of your words.”

Hans opened his mouth to speak.

The man with the goatee held up a slender hand. When Hans closed his mouth, the man nodded and leaned back in his chair.

“Call me Karl,” the man said. “Do you understand English?”

Hans nodded.

“You will refrain from gestures and speak your answers,” Karl said.

“I speak reasonable English,” Hans said.

“Good. That will help. What is your name and rank?”

“I am Hans Kruger, a sergeant in the GD Expeditionary Force. I operated a drone vehicle, the Sigrid antipersonnel platform. Under the Geneva Convention…”

Hans trailed off, as Karl raised his hand again.

“Let me explain something, Mr. Kruger,” Karl said. “In your case, we care nothing about the Geneva Convention. We believe you hold vital information toward the American war effort. Now, I have no doubt you’ve heard of waterboarding.”

“I have,” Hans said, as his stomach tightened.

“It’s a process you want to avoid, I assure you.”

Hans nodded, and Karl frowned at him. “Yes!” Hans said. “I agree. I don’t want to be waterboarded.”

“We can proceed down that road if we have to,” Karl said. “We can…”

Hans leaned forward earnestly. “May I tell you something, sir?”

Karl glanced at the woman behind Hans.

Hans had forgotten about her. He glanced back, and it startled him to see she’d let down her long black hair and that she had opened the first three buttons of her blouse. What was going on here?

“My psychologist is pretty, isn’t she, Hans?” Karl asked.

Hans gulped nervously. He was more aware than ever concerning his almost total state of undress. He made a little yelping noise as she stepped nearer and put a hand on his shoulder. She had warm skin, too warm and sexual. He turned to Mr. Goatee.

Karl sat back in his chair, smiling at him.

Hans opened his mouth. The woman stroked his neck with a gentle touch.

“Please,” Hans whispered. “I don’t think you understand. I’m willing to talk. I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

Karl’s face tightened, and he motioned the woman away. She removed her hand and stepped back.

“We know how to deal with liars, Hans.”

“I’m not lying. Tell me what you’d like to know and I’ll tell you.”

Karl stroked his goatee. He seemed to measure Hans. Finally, he said, “Tell me about your Sigrid. I’m curious how you operated the vehicle.”

Once more, Hans glanced back at the woman. Her features had turned frosty. She was beautiful, but he didn’t like the idea of her attempting to arouse him in the presence of these two men. The Americans had odd ideas about breaking a man, but this was better than being strapped down onto a board as they poured water down his mouth. He shuddered at the thought.

“Is something wrong?” Karl asked.

“No… It’s—it’s chilly in here.”

“He’s lying,” the woman said. “That wasn’t what he was thinking.”

Hans’s stomach tightened worse than before. “I-I was just thinking about waterboarding. I…I didn’t like the thought.”

Karl glanced at the woman.

“He could be telling the truth now,” she said.

Hans licked his lips nervously. He didn’t like these two. No. He didn’t like them at all.

“Let’s try this again,” Karl said. “First, I want to know your exact procedures as you operate the Sigrid drone…”

In such an unlikely manner, Hans Kruger began an interrogation marathon that would last for weeks.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

Colonel Stan Higgins, the commanding officer of the single US Behemoth Regiment, toured the new Behemoth Manufacturing Plant in Detroit.

He was in his fifties and at five ten he weighed a precise two hundred pounds. The last month had almost been as bad as the endless weeks of combat against the Chinese this winter. He had a hectic schedule and didn’t get enough sleep. To compensate, he ate too much and exercised too little. He was athletic and still enjoyed various competitive sports including basketball and ping-pong…when he could find the time. He hadn’t found it lately and had gained too many pounds that had gone directly to his stomach.

As of this moment, the Behemoth Regiment only had six running machines, and not all of those operated at peak efficiency. The Behemoths were great big tanks at three hundred tons apiece. They boasted the only rail guns in the entire North American theater, Allied or Aggressor. The regiment was stationed in Oklahoma behind the defensive works facing the Chinese and Brazilian invasion armies.

Stan had arrived in Detroit this morning, coming at the request of General McGraw.

Stan stood in a spacious hangar filled with heavy equipment. Some of the equipment had come from Denver. Those parts or machines looked rusted and badly used. Just like Stalingrad in WWII, Denver had gone through the meat grinder of sieges this winter. The rest of the assembly line equipment was new, with workers in coveralls boiling over it from one end to the other. Chains rattled in places. Rollers clacked and steam hissed two hundred feet away at the end.

By turning to his left, Stan spied five battered Behemoth hulks. Big laser burn-holes showed in several of them. Those had faced the Chinese laser tanks, or the Mobile Canopy Anti-Ballistic Missile vehicles, as they were officially called. The Chinese normally used the six-hundred ton, three-trailer vehicles as air and missile defense. But much as the Germans in WWII had used their famous 88mm antiaircraft guns against tanks, the Chinese had done the same with their “laser tanks.” The battle between the two technologically advanced weapon systems had been the Behemoths’ toughest to date.

America was building more Behemoth plants, but at present this was the only one going. It would take three more months before the Behemoth Regiment was back to full strength. At the same time, the US Army had started a second regiment. Now the GD threatened Detroit, or they would in another few weeks unless something decisive happened to halt their advance.

“Colonel Higgins!” General McGraw shouted.

McGraw had commanded the decisive thrust against the Pan-Asian Alliance this winter. Army Group Washington had contained the best divisions America possessed, and that had made the difference. McGraw now commanded the entire Midwestern Defense facing the PAA and the South American Federation.

Tom McGraw stood six foot five and had to weigh a solid three-fifty. He was a bear of a man, with a thick face and a General Custer beard and mustache. Like Patton, McGraw wore pistols at his side even here at the civilian plant. McGraw’s guns were old issue .45s, and he had used them on more than one occasion.

“Good to see you, Stan.”

“General,” Stan said.

They shook hands, two of the crucial officers of the dream team that had saved the United States this winter. Stan knew that the general was on his way to Washington to meet with the President. No doubt the Commander in Chief wanted McGraw’s advice.

They had both been busy in the Midwest, readying their commands in case the Chinese and Brazilians decided to launch another up-the-gut invasion this summer. So far, the Aggressors had been content to lick their wounds and rebuild their depleted formations.

The plant manager and his aides stepped away from Stan. They must have seen something in McGraw’s face.

Stan watched them go, mildly surprised at their reaction. “Did you scowl at them?” he asked the general.

McGraw grinned for only a moment. Then he became serious. “I only have a few minutes for you, old son. I’m off to Washington to see the king.”

Stan became serious, too. There was something very close to his heart. “Say, before you ask me whatever it is you’re going to, I have something to ask you.”

“What’s that?” McGraw said, lifting a bushy eyebrow. He had a tuft of white hairs there.

“I haven’t heard from my son for several weeks. He hasn’t been answering any emails and his cell just rings when I phone. I finally got through to his friends in the Militia. They say he’s in trouble with the Detention people. I phoned them, but they’re stonewalling me. I finally used a back channel and discovered he’s in a penal battalion.”

“What, your boy?”

“It’s crazy. My boy fought in Denver and survived the siege. This is total bullshit. Tom, what’s with the Militia people? I know the regular members are great men and women. But some of the leaders are…well, they remind me of the Brownshirts or the SS.”

A touch of worry creased McGraw’s face. “I wouldn’t say that too loudly. Who knows what little bird will hear you and pass along your words.”

Stan snorted angrily. “You can bet I’m going to say it even louder if they don’t release my boy from their…their penal battalions. What’s up with that?”

“Up with that?” McGraw asked. “Are you sure you’re a colonel?”

“No, sir,” Stan said. “I’m a pissed-off father ready to rock and roll against the Militia leadership. I’ll take this up with Director Harold if I have to.”

General McGraw’s face grew serious. “You know how the wind is blowing. Director Harold has instituted some rough decrees. He gets things done and the Militia has mobilized millions, and armed them too.”

“The Army could have done the same thing.”

“Twenty years ago, yes, you would be right,” McGraw said. “But this isn’t your father’s army.”

“Tom, I’m dead, dead serious. They can’t—”

“Hold it right there. Don’t tell me about can’t. They took Jake. At least from what you’re saying they did. I’ll see what I can do, but these Militia leaders usually cover their butts pretty well. If your son has crossed the line somewhere, you’re going to have to be smart and tactful to get him out of this mess, not just bull ahead.”

Stan turned away. If Jake died because of this nonsense…he’d be ready to turn the Behemoths on the Militia leadership. But there was no sense telling Tom that. The general had enough problems.

“I appreciate whatever you can do, sir,” Stan said.

“No, no, Colonel,” McGraw said. “Don’t go all formal on me.” The general grabbed Stan by the elbow and steered him away from the waiting plant manager.

“Listen to me. I’ll do what I can for Jake. But you know Army brass doesn’t have a lot of pull with the Militia. They might use your boy as a bargaining chip against us. You know what I mean?”

“I know,” Stan said, and it made his gut ache. What was wrong with those people?

“But I’ll bend some arms,” McGraw said. “You can count on that.”

“I know,” Stan said. And he did. He trusted Tom McGraw.

“You’re good then?”

Stan wasn’t good in the slightest. He hadn’t been good ever since learning about this. But he was Army. He could put his pain in a box and shut the lid so he could concentrate on the matter at hand. He gave the general a sharp nod.

“Good,” McGraw said. “Now how about you help me for a moment.”

“Of course,” Stan said.

“You’ve been keeping abreast of the GD campaign in Southern Ontario?”

“Night and day,” Stan said.

“I knew you would be. Do you have any ideas?”

Stan knew what McGraw meant. Did he have any ideas about how to stop the GD blitzkrieg? Well, the Army and the reformed Canadians had stopped the blitz for a time. It came at the cost of the Toronto Pocket, and too many prized divisions caught in a trap. The Germans would capture those soldiers soon. Nothing American High Command did had been able to break them free. Once the pocket surrendered, the blitz would likely continue. He had an idea how to keep the Germans bottled afterward, but he wasn’t sure the general would like it much.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Stan admitted. “It’s tight country in Southern Ontario. Especially the area squeezed between Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. There’s a lot of city there, too, a lot of built-up area. Unfortunately, the GD has better and more armor and better and more mechanized units than we do.”

“They have plenty of ground-based drones, too,” McGraw said. “That gives them an amazing advantage.”

Stan agreed. “From the repots I’ve read, our armor is outclassed. Facing GD tanks head-on is too costly in our machines, and our helos have taken crippling losses whenever they’ve attacked. We need to keep our older tanks away from theirs. There aren’t any Jeffersons up north, as we have them all locked up in the Midwest. Frankly, the only way I can see right now at stopping them for good is through mass, lots of warm bodies in the way.”

“Armed with plenty of anti-tank weapons?” McGraw asked.

“We need more of that, much more,” Stan said. “But our portable anti-tank weapons aren’t as good as theirs. And those Sigrids combined with the Kaisers, Leopards and laser-armed Sabre fighter-jets—it’s a brutal mix, sir. No. I believe the answer is massed bodies backed by thousands of gun tubes.”

“Artillery, huh,” McGraw said.

“Raining down anti-tank rounds by the ton,” Stan said. “If we can, we have to turn the battle from a high-tech contest to something where we can compete at better odds. We need siege lines, Tom, massed SAMs and tactical antiair lasers so they can’t pull any more of their tank drops against us. That was well done on their part. No. I take that back. It was a brilliant maneuver.”

“They’ve been brilliant, I’ll grant you that,” McGraw said. “They have their own Stan Higgins over there.”

“I don’t know about that, sir, but the GD generals know their business. We have more men or soldiers than the GD does. They have more machines. Too bad we couldn’t fire giant EMP weapons over them and stall the GD machines.”

“Nuclear explosions cause electromagnetic pulses,” McGraw said thoughtfully.

Stan’s shoulders twitched. It made him feel an old injury in his shoulder, pulling at the ancient wound. Is he serious? “Do you really want a nuclear war in Southern Ontario, sir? I was thinking along the line of the Chinese EMP Blue Swan missiles. We could use several dozen of those. They could change the equation for us, and in a hurry.”

“Better to have a nuclear war there than to let the Germans into our country,” McGraw said.

“It can’t be as bad as that,” Stan said.

“It’s worse,” McGraw said. “Do you know there’s talk of moving your Behemoths north to Detroit?”

Stan laughed bleakly. “That’s a bad joke. We only have a handful of running vehicles. You know that.”

“That’s all we’ve ever had with them, old son. Do you think your Behemoths would do more good in—?”

“No!” Stan said.

McGraw scowled. “You didn’t even hear the question.”

“The Behemoths do best at long ranges, sir, very long ranges. Southern Ontario is the wrong place to use them. Besides, the Chinese would learn we pulled out of Oklahoma. Right now, I suspect, the Behemoth reputation is doing more to scare the Chinese than our paltry handful of actual machines. If we pull out of the Midwest Defense…” Stan shook his head. “We would lose the benefit of our reputation. We’re not going to impress the GD with our rep, but only through hard fighting.”

“And if the Germans take Detroit and this plant?” McGraw asked.

Stan blinked slowly. Was it really going to come to that? Were the Germans that good? If they were that good…the entire war could turn around against America.

“The GD making it to Detroit turns it into a different ball game, doesn’t it?” McGraw asked.

“It does,” Stan said.

“No suggestions, Colonel?”

“We can’t afford to lose Detroit,” Stan said. “Well…let me rephrase that. We can’t afford to lose the Behemoth Plant. Before that happens…I’d use those nukes you were talking about.”

“I can quote you on that?” McGraw asked.

“Yes, sir,” Stan said.

McGraw turned away. He sighed after a time. “This is a hell of a war, Stan. We won ourselves a big victory, a spectacular thing that put us in the driver’s seat for a change. Now another wolf comes sniffing at our door. Only it isn’t just any wolf, but the big old Fenris wolf of Norse mythology. Are you familiar with the story?”

“I am, sir.”

“I thought you might be,” McGraw said, facing Stan again.

“During the last battle of the Viking gods—it’s called Ragnarok,” Stan said. “The Fenris wolf eats Odin All-father. If I remember correctly, the wolf swallows the Norse king of the gods whole.”

“It might be time to nuke the wolf,” McGraw said.

“Or use mass against him,” Stan said.

“And where do you expect the US to get this mass? In case you haven’t noticed, we’re stretched everywhere.”

“You can’t guard everywhere,” Stan said. “That’s a truism of battle and of war. Sometimes you have to gamble and weaken yourself at a spot so you can be strong at the critical sector. That’s what we did this winter. If it was me—and it isn’t, I know—I’d strip the southern East Coast for soldiers.”

Thoughtfully, McGraw pursed his lips. “The GD has some potent amphibious forces in Cuba waiting. We’ve learned about them. They’ve been quietly building up their numbers, ships and landing craft.”

“I’ve read those reports too,” Stan said. “I know about them.”

“Then you realize that by stripping the southern East Coast of soldiers we’d be leaving ourselves open. That’s just a short hop from Cuba to there.”

“We would be open there, yes sir. What do we have, something like seven hundred thousand soldiers from southern Mississippi to Florida and to North Carolina. I’m talking about winnowing out four hundred thousand from that. I would think the bulk of the remaining troops would particularly guard Mississippi to Florida.”

“That wouldn’t be enough,” McGraw said. “The coastline is long, especially the Florida coasts.”

“I understand, sir. Mississippi and Florida would have to keep the bulk of the staying three hundred thousand. The other areas— Sir, the way I see it, in a pinch or in a crisis we could ship troops back to the depleted areas fast enough to make the GD rue the day they landed in the wrong place. I mean, they could land in Georgia or South Carolina, but then where would they do?”

“Are you serious?” McGraw asked. “They would capture the state. They would create a third front against us. That would be a disaster.”

Stan shook his head. “The GD amphibious force wouldn’t be like D-Day in Normandy. It would be more like Dieppe in 1942. The Allies landed there in WWII and the Germans annihilated them. Yes, the Cuba-based GD forces could capture a few cities, possibly even more than a few. But that in itself isn’t going to win them much. We could pour troops around them and crush the amphibious force out of existence. They simply don’t have a large enough amphibious force to grab enough territory. It would create a temporary third front for us, but one heavily in our favor. We’re talking millions of troops to face them and they could put down what: two hundred thousand at the most?”

“Now you’re conjuring more millions of American troops out of thin air?” McGraw asked.

“That’s not what I mean,” Stan said. “If you’re playing a war game, such an invasion might make sense. But if they invade such a lonely spot—lonely in the sense that the invasion force would be far from other Aggressor forces and help—it would only be a matter of time before America encircled them with mass. That mass would be too much for such a tiny GD force, and they would end up dying to a man. I don’t think even Chancellor Kleist can throw away that many soldiers on a suicide mission. It would have the potential of shattering GD morale.”

“Hmm, I think I see what you’re driving at.”

“The GD has to be careful where they invade,” Stan said. “I suspect that if they do invade this summer, it would be in support of the present Expeditionary Force. At least, that’s how I would do it, a one-two punch.”

“Interesting…” McGraw said.

“Therefore,” Stan said. “I’d strip the present forces from Georgia, South and North Carolina and take some maybe from coastal Alabama and the strip of Florida south of Alabama. We’d leave token forces there and build fake troop emplacements to try to fool the GD as Patton did to the Germans across the English Channel. With the extra soldiers—four hundred thousand perhaps—and with more levies from the New England command—say another two hundred thousand—we could begin to really mass in Southern Ontario. I’d also be gathering as many artillery tubes as I could. No matter what the tech is, it’s hard to defend against tons of metal raining down on you. Maybe as good, the artillery will use up all those smart anti-munitions, leaving the Kaisers vulnerable to direct fire. Then you dig trenches, big, nasty systems better than WWI, more like the Iraqis built against the Iranians back in the 1980s. I’d make it impossible for the GD to race anywhere in Southern Ontario.”

“Nothing fancy,” McGraw said, as if to himself, “just mass. That would mean a lot of blood—of death—on our part, wouldn’t it?”

“Most likely,” Stan admitted. He brushed a fly away that had landed on his right cheek. “I wouldn’t suggest such a thing, but—”

“I understand, old son. We’re not talking niceties here, but national survival.”

“Despite the number of troops,” Stan said, “this is a stopgap measure until we figure something else out.” He stared at his boots for a moment, before meeting the general’s gaze. “In the long run, we can’t win a war of attrition against the world. We couldn’t even win one against the Pan-Asian Alliance, never mind adding in the South American Federation and the German Dominion. But this is a tight spot, both in the actual land mass—the peninsula of Southern Ontario—and that we find ourselves in. The key to our defense would be manpower and hordes of defending artillery tubes. The Germans will have to try for the tubes. That would be a given. When they try, that’s when we throw a surprise at them.”

“What kind of surprise?” McGraw asked.

“I don’t know at the moment, sir, but you’re likely going to need something. I’m guessing the GD still has some tech surprises for us.”

McGraw nodded, before shaking Stan’s hand. “You’ve given me food for thought, Colonel. I like it. It isn’t fancy this time like we did against the Chinese.”

“You’d better move fast on this one,” Stan said. “I mean emergency fast. From the reports I’ve read, the Toronto Pocket isn’t going to last much longer. If the GD reaches Detroit and breaks out… then it could get very ugly for us.”

McGraw checked his watch. When he looked up, he waved to the plant manager and began to button his coat.

The manager hurried near. “You aren’t staying, General?”

McGraw grabbed Stan by the shoulder. “This is the officer you need to impress. If he gives you advice, you listen to what he says.”

The plant manager studied Stan, soon nodding.

With that, Tom McGraw took his leave, and Stan started the plant inspection on his own.

First, the Chinese and Brazilians had attacked America, now the German Dominion did. America needed more allies than just the Canadians. Stan was grateful for their help, especially last winter, but America had to find heavier partners if they were going to throw these massed military coalitions out of the country.

TORONTO, ONTARIO

US Marine General Len Zelazny looked up at the bunker ceiling. The entire edifice shook as debris rained down. On impulse, he grabbed his helmet and shoved it onto his head. It likely saved his life.

For the last several days the GD had pounded the shrinking pocket with artillery and sent in hunter-killer teams to dig them out. The Canadian and American soldiers would have surrendered or died at least two days ago, but Lady Luck had smiled on them. They had found a deep and forgotten warehouse full of weaponry and dried goods. Given their small numbers, it proved critical. Generously resupplied, they fought and died, but some of them still survived, although in ever-dwindling numbers.

Now a chunk of masonry fell from the ceiling and dashed itself against the general’s head. His eyes rolled up and he slammed against the floor. He might have died, but his aide, a corporal, grabbed him under the armpits and dragged Zelazny out of the bunker just in time. The place collapsed, killing some of the command team.

Zelazny woke up with a splitting headache several hours later. Men argued behind him and the sound of tanks grew louder. Rousing himself, Zelazny sat up. The headache worsened and he vomited onto his lap.

“General,” the corporal said, squatting before him. The boy had a grimy, dusty face, with his eyes peering out like a raccoon. “You should take it easy.”

With his forearm, Zelazny wiped vomit from his mouth, and he grunted as he struggled to his feet. Vertigo threatened and the half-sunken chamber seemed to spin around. He vomited again. He felt awful. He lost track of what the men said. With his hands against an old wooden table, he braced himself so he wouldn’t go crashing to his side.

“It’s coming here!” a soldier shouted. The man stood by a basement window, looking out at ground level. He turned to the others and shouted, “Run!”

The men forgot Zelazny this time, including the corporal, as they bolted out of the chamber. Something had them terrified. From his spot at the table, Zelazny blinked and his head pounded with pain. Then the loud and immediate sound of squealing tank treads brought the general around to reality. He looked around and spied weapons scattered about the room. Taking several wobbling lurches, he bent and picked up a Javelin missile. This was the wrong place to fire one, but he was going to die anyway, so he might as well hurt the enemy.

Gritting his teeth—that made his head worse—wrestling the thing upright, Zelazny staggered to the nearest window. This one was just a little higher than his head but showed the ground outside. He was in a Canadian basement.

Thirty feet to the side of his position, he saw a vast shape heading straight toward the building. A second later, the war machine crashed into the wall and explosively blew bricks into the basement. Then the tank stopped, with several feet of its treads and body hanging over open basement space. Zelazny staggered away from the window. Like a dinosaur the tank shoved a little more into the room. Zelazny tried to will the machine to clank forward even more and tumble into the basement. Instead of obeying his will, he saw something detach from the tank and fall. It clanged heavily onto the cement floor. The mine or bomb was metal and shaped like a barrel.

Zelazny dropped to his stomach, covering the Javelin launcher with his body. The barrel exploded, producing a violent concussion followed by roaring, crackling flames. Zelazny lifted and slammed against a basement wall. He grunted painfully. Then fire engulfed him. He shouted in panic, and he rolled and rolled. He put out the flames and he shoved up to his knees. Fires raged around him and an oily smell along with billowing black smoke nearly gagged him. The tank—it was a Leopard IV—began pulling away, and bricks rained down and clanged against its metal hide.

Zelazny worked on automatic, a lost soul in a basement inferno. Maybe he was no longer altogether sane. His face was black and his eyebrows were singed away. He set the Javelin launcher on his shoulder. Missiles such as this normally had a minimum aiming distance in order to protect the operator. These had been modified. He pulled the trigger. The missile hardly had time to pop out of the launcher and fly. It struck the side of the tank and exploded. The concussion blew the general backward, and he grunted as he struck a desk and saw flames sprouting between his legs.

He crawled away and slapped his legs. He had burn holes on his pants. Time spun around, soared and dived down into pain. The oily, billowing smoke filled the top of the basement and poured out of the tank-made hole. He crawled along the bottom and it hurt his chest to suck down air to breathe.

I’m a Marine, and this is my last battle.

Silently, Zelazny repeated the saying to himself. He had begun his service long ago in Iraq and had fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah. He had dished it out there harder than he’d taken it. Why should he turn pansy now in Toronto?

Just because I’m on old man doesn’t mean I should quit.

Finding a gas mask, putting it on, finding the glasses were smudgy and making it harder to see, Zelazny tried to ignore the smoke and fire. He picked up a grenade launcher and staggered to the dead enemy tank. It had been a lucky strike, but he needed some more luck about now. He crawled over rubble as if it were stairs and slid to a position where he could look across the street. The smoke would hide him; he was sure.

Ah, look at that. A rare GD infantryman peered around a building.

Zelazny didn’t know it, but inside the gas mask, he grinned like Death. He readied the grenade launcher and waited. Suddenly, the GD infantryman sprinted for a new position. For these seconds, the soldier exposed himself. Several others followed the man. Zelazny fired two grenades—pop, pop—and he had the extreme gratification of watching an enemy soldier go down and shout in German for a medic.

A US machine gun poured fire from somewhere, and the GD infantryman died in a hail of bullets that shredded his body armor. Good, good, that was very good. Zelazny whooped with savage lust.

A Sigrid clattered around a corner and into view. Zelazny aimed and emptied the grenade launcher at the thing. The explosions were gratifying, but they had little effect. He released the weapon and slid down the rubble back into the basement. There had to be something around here—

“General!” the corporal shouted from a half-buried door. “You’re alive! Follow me. We have to go.”

Zelazny stood dump struck. “Kill the thing,” he finally muttered in his mask.

“You look terrible, sir. Let’s go. Come on!”

“Weapons,” Zelazny slurred. “We need weapons.”

It seemed impossible the corporal could hear him, but the young man answered. “We have plenty, but we don’t have many men left. Are you coming, sir?”

Zelazny vaguely realized that he was in no condition to make decisions. So he crawled under the smoke to the corporal and climbed to his feet. The young aide gave him a shoulder, and they retreated from the fiery basement.

They had survived another GD engagement in the shrinking pocket with its dwindling number of defenders. It was doubtful they would survive much longer.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna Chen felt the grimness of the hour and the importance of the meeting. How quickly things had changed from this winter. It had been the witching hour then, too, but these men had made key decisions that had turned the situation around.

Could they achieve such a miracle once again?

The President sat in his rocking chair, easing it back and forth. She sat behind and to his left, keeping notes. General Tom McGraw had taken a recliner on the opposite location as the President. Director Harold sat on one end of a long sofa, while the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs sat on the other end.

David welcomed the men, and they chitchatted for a few minutes. Soon, the President stopped rocking, and he outlined the reason for the meeting.

“General Zelazny’s command has held out longer than we thought he could in Toronto,” David said. “We still have intermittent contact with them. We know they’ve run out of space and have twice as many wounded as healthy soldiers. There isn’t any evacuation for anyone in Toronto.” The President paused. “It looks now as if the enemy has begun to mask the pocket and go around them. They’ve begin the drive again, moving up masses of tanks, drones and assault troops.”

The President glanced at each of them, even turning to glance at Anna. “If the Expeditionary Force blitzes to Detroit or smashes through Niagara Falls and Buffalo… Obviously, the war will have broken out into a wider and more threatening theater. It’s bad enough now, but given—”

“Mr. President,” Director Harold said. “I think we’ve finally come to our great impasse, the one we’ve all secretly been dreading.”

The President stared at the Director of Homeland Security, and he took his time answering.

Anna knew David didn’t like people interrupting him. But this time it seemed like it was more than that. She’d never told him what Max had said at Frobisher. She had begun to believe it had been a failed ploy on the director’s part…

I should have told David. It was a mistake to keep this to myself.

“Do you mean a massed nuclear strike in Southern Ontario?” David finally asked.

“No, Mr. President,” Max said. “I mean surgical strikes with tactical nuclear weapons. We might even use some of them to create EMP blasts. I believe that would be a good way to shut down the GD drone operations.”

“The enemy antiair, antimissile umbrella is strong,” General Alan said. “It’s what has kept us from resupplying our forces in Toronto other than with token drops. The GD antimissile shield is much better than what even the Chinese had this winter.”

“One big nuclear missile, or several big missiles if that’s what it takes, can silence those with a giant EMP blast,” Max said. He opened up a briefcase and took out a thin folder, showing it to the others. “This is a tactical nuclear war plan and situational study of Southern Ontario. Mr. President, we need to do this and do it now.”

“You mean we should consider the option,” the President said.

Max seemed to gather his resolve as he dragged his tongue across his bottom lip. “I’m sorry, sir. I mean strike now. The Toronto Pocket points to the urgency of the matter. We must stop the GD before they break out of Southern Ontario. As it is, they are containable. If they break into New York State or worse, into Michigan…” Max shook his head. “I think we all know what that would mean.”

“We should turn the Behemoth tanks loose against them,” the President said.

McGraw cleared his throat.

“Are they ready?” the President asked him.

“No, sir, I’m afraid not,” McGraw said. “We only have a handful of Behemoths running. The regiment will be back to strength in three months.”

“No,” Max said. “We’ll have lost Detroit a long time before that, General. We must take the appropriate action now, this instant, today.”

The room fell silent. Anna glanced at the others. McGraw looked down. Max’s eyes gleamed and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs seemed troubled. David bit his lip as if he mentally argued with himself.

“I’m sorry to say this, sir,” General Alan said into the silence. “But I think the director has a point, a powerful one.”

David Sims stopped rocking. He looked surprised. He glanced from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Director of Homeland Security. “Are you two working against me?”

“No, sir,” Alan said. “I simply agree that we’re at an impasse here. We’ve moved the strategic reserve into Southern Ontario and trickled troops from the New England Command. The Germans have already devoured much of those forces and encircled others. We could summon the training levies—”

“I do not recommend that,” Max said.

“I don’t either,” Alan said. “I’m just talking about emergency policies. It’s that serious, Mr. President. This is bad, very bad.”

Anna felt her chest constrict.

“I have an idea to propose that doesn’t include using nuclear weapons,” McGraw said.

Anna felt relief flood through her. She was dead set against a nuclear holocaust, and she feared the consequences if the Director and the Chairman joined forces against David.

McGraw outlined Stan Higgins’s plan of using the majority of the soldiers stationed along the southern East and Gulf Coasts, entraining them to Southern Ontario together with a generous outlay of troops from the New England Command.

“But…” General Alan said, interrupting McGraw. Alan spoke about the GD amphibious forces in Cuba. He pointed out the danger of stripping the southern East Coast in case the enemy should land there and grab vital US territory.

McGraw used Stan’s arguments to deflect the Chairman’s objections.

“If I understand you correctly,” Director Harold said, “you’re talking about mass casualties in Southern Ontario. You mean to try to drown the enemy in US blood and to clog their tank treads with our boy’s pulped and crushed flesh.”

Big Tom McGraw’s face became leaden. With eyes like chips of glass, he stared at Max Harold. “I’m a soldier, Director. I fight with the weapons I have.” He shook his head. “I don’t want my men to die, and I resent the idea of you calling me a butcher.”

“Isn’t your plan butchery?” Max asked. “We have the weapons to stop the enemy: tactical nuclear missiles. I say it’s time to use them and end this conflict with an annihilating victory.”

Color darkened McGraw’s face. “Nuclear warheads… We have to use what we have: and right now, we have more soldiers than they do—if we can mass them in time. I hate the idea of American soldiers dying. I desperately hate it. But if we launch tactical nuclear weapons, they will launch tactical nuclear weapons. Then we’ll have to up our scale of attack, and soon we’re exploding the big boys at each other. Thermonuclear fireballs will devour everything. It will be Armageddon. No, Director. I don’t see how any soldier wins once we start doing that in earnest.”

“I disagree with you,” Max said. “The trick is to hit first and hit hard with everything.”

“Everything?” the President asked.

“A slip of the tongue,” Max said. “I mean to hit with an avalanche of tactical missiles, with nuclear surgical strikes.”

“That’s an oxymoron,” McGraw said.

“It’s also old Cold War theory,” the President said.

Max picked up the thin folder, waving it in the air. “We need to consider what’s at stake here before we get indigent about using nuclear weapons. They’re simply devices causing bigger explosions.”

“Size of explosion together with radioactivity makes a tremendous difference,” McGraw said.

“You’re looking at this from the wrong perspective,” Max told him. “Three powerful military blocs are invading our country. We don’t have the firepower or the manpower to take on all three for long and hope to win. We must end this war as quickly as possible. We cannot win a war of attrition, which is exactly what General McGraw is suggesting we do in Southern Ontario. I disagree with his plan. We need another decisive win. Against all hope, we had such a win against the Chinese. Now we need it against the Germans. We must end the war by destroying our opponents. Think about it. We’ve admitted to ourselves that GD tech is better than ours.”

“In most areas their tech is better,” Alan said. “Not in all areas.”

“In enough areas that it matters,” Max said. “Do any of you suppose I don’t understand numbers? The Militia organization has fielded millions of extra troops and armed them, often with hunting rifles and mortars instead of assault rifles and real artillery tubes. The GD offensive…” He waved the folder and slapped it against his briefcase. “The only way I can see us winning decisively is through the use of nuclear weapons. The idea we can conventionally defeat all three power blocs…it is madness and maybe even military hubris on our part to think so.”

Once more, the room fell into silence.

This is getting ugly, Anna thought. And it’s tearing David apart.

The President rubbed his eyes as he hung his head.

“Sir,” General Alan said. “I’d like to point out something.”

David Sims nodded wearily.

Alan took off his thick black glasses and he removed a checkered cloth from his suit pocket. He blew on a lens and began to rub it clean. He did the same to the second lens as the others waited.

After putting the glasses back on, the gaunt Chairman of the Joint Chiefs glanced at each person in turn. “I’m not going to address Director Harold’s argument. He may have a point. I’m a military man, and it seems to me that once we begin to truly talk about nuclear exchanges that the fighting is over and the true butchery starts.”

“Ignoring my argument is conceding that I’m right,” Max said, “because you do not have a cogent counterargument to offer.”

“The end of the world—”

“No,” Max said. “Nuclear weapons aren’t the end of the world. That is a false argument.”

“I disagree,” Alan said. “I have agreed at times to seaborne nuclear strikes. Those are different fish, so to speak. Land-based nuclear strikes in heavily populated regions…I believe that is the beginning of the end.”

“Are you asking for a defeat?” Max asked.

General Alan smiled briefly. “I think we can defeat our enemies conventionally. We threw the Chinese and their allies back, and given time and more Behemoths, we’ll throw the PAA and the SAF out of the rest of the country.”

“And what do you think the GD Expeditionary Force will be doing during all this?” Max asked.

“That’s what I want to explain,” Alan said. “General McGraw proposes a stopgap measure to buy us time. I have…well, I don’t know if we’ve hit the secret jackpot or not, but now seems like a good time to let the rest of you know that we’ve seen a technological ray of light.”

“You should have already told us,” the President said.

“Yes, sir,” Alan said. “Well, almost a week ago, Len Zelazny attacked the GD head-on. He took severe losses in men and materiel. We know that. He did so because of a theory of his. That was to get elite soldiers behind enemy lines. Gentlemen, Ms. Chen, a few of our boys got into the GD secondary areas. One team in particular wreaked mayhem on a drone battalion. They shot up all the personnel but one. That one man, and much of his equipment, they took to Lake Ontario. They boarded a submersible in the lake and returned to our side.”

“We have submarines in Lake Ontario?” the President asked in amazement.

“Small ones for special operations, sir,” Alan said. “The point is that we’ve been studying the drone equipment and interrogating the GD operator for several days now. We’ve found something called the Heidegger Principle. It’s technical, so I won’t go into it here. But we’ve discovered that’s how the GD drone operators communicate with their vehicles. We’ve finally found out why our jamming equipment, or electronic warfare, has had so little effect on them to date.”

“The Heidegger Principle?” the President asked. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Mr. President,” Alan said. “Here’s the crux of the matter. We’ve already begun building a Heidegger Principle jammer. With it, we believe we can jam GD drone signals.”

“Meaning what?” the President asked.

“Meaning we can possibly interrupt their Sigrids and some of their drone tanks,” McGraw said loudly.

“We hope,” Alan told him.

“Maybe we could even take over some of their drones,” McGraw said.

“We’re looking into that, of course,” Alan said. “The main event is stopping them from functioning.”

The President blinked several times. “That’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a miracle weapon.”

“No,” General Alan said. “It isn’t that. Otherwise, I would have said something before this. The jammers are going to take time to build. There are some concepts here I don’t admit to fully understanding. The GD tech teams are way ahead of us on this. But I do think it means we can soon—in a week or two—get a special EW jamming company together. We’ll set up more companies as fast as we can. But we may have an antidote to GD ‘Terminator’ battalions and divisions running amok among us. It will force them to put more of their flesh and blood troops on the line. Then we can fight them on near-equal terms.”

“I’m giving the jamming company crash priority,” the President said.

“Consider it already done, sir,” Alan said.

“And unless you men have any more objections,” the President said, “I’m going to implement General McGraw’s idea.”

“Mr. President,” Max said. “Gentlemen, Ms. Chen, I’m surprised at your…your callous disregard of soldiers’ lives. These are stopgap measures. Our military men already admit that. I’ve outlined a plan that will give us decisive victory.”

“Can’t you see that you’re talking about unleashing annihilation against humanity?” the President asked.

“I respectfully disagree, sir,” Max said. “We use the tactical—”

“No,” the President said. “I will not order mass tactical nuclear weapons, not unless there is no other way.”

“Sir,” Max said. “We should use them before we’ve bled our country dry of its best troops.”

The President scowled, and Max continued talking. It took another hour of hard discussions before Max Harold finally lapsed into a sullen silence.

Thus, the orders would go out. There would be a mass entraining of southern East Coast soldiers and others from coastal Mississippi and Alabama heading for Southern Ontario. The New England Command would have to give up soldiers too. Others in New York would immediately attack toward Hamilton to buy time. All the while, artillery from the Midwest, from the Pacific and from the southern East Coast would head for the GD Front.

Like the others, Anna understood the critical nature of the next few days and weeks. If General Zelazny could buy them enough time…they might be able to halt the resumption of the enemy offensive before the Germans broke out of Southern Ontario.

NIAGARA, NEW YORK

Jake Higgins had lost weight since Topeka, Kansas, making him leaner than ever and giving his face a gaunt look. There was something new in his eyes: a cloaked fierceness some of the meanest junkyard dogs achieved.

He rode in the back of a noisy old Army truck. Gears ground and the engine knocked twice before resuming its regular roar. This was a Militia truck these days, as close to a piece of running junk as he’d ever seen. The rest of the penal squad rode in the covered bed of the truck with him. They belonged to the Second Platoon of C Company of the Third Penal Battalion. Each of them wore Militia green with a big rucksack at their feet. Each of the militiamen wore old worn boots and worn coats, castoff clothing given to the worst scoundrels in the US military. At least, so the training sergeants had told them for the last few days now.

Their training had been extremely short and brutal, with several sluggards shot on the spot to make an example for the others. In Jake’s opinion, sending them into battle now was a crime. Half the men here knew nothing about combat. The other half hardly knew each other’s names.

According to the Militia manifests, most of the men in the truck bed were politically unreliable. Because of that, these dregs had lost their right to American citizenship. There was only one way to regain the rights, and that was through a year’s clean record and through sustained fighting.

None of the other militiamen in here had seen as much fighting as Jake. No three of them combined had seen as much action. It should have made him the squad sergeant. It should have, but the black marks against him were much darker than the marks against any of the others. Besides, he’d knocked down Dan Franks, and the MDG Sergeants had found plenty of things to write up concerning him. Therefore, Jake Higgins was a lowly private.

As a dreg of a private, he sat nearest the tailgate. It rained hard outside, the drops plinking against the outer tarp. Far too many drops slashed within, hitting his slicker, the rim of his helmet and his face if he looked up. The big tires churned through mud, the engine working overtime and the nearly bald tires sliding far too much. On either side of the switchback road towered huge evergreen trees. If the truck served too much, it could easily crash against one of the forest giants.

In truth, Jake didn’t mind this spot on the truck. If the old vehicle did crash, he at least had a chance of making it outside alive. The trouble came from another penal battalion truck that followed on their tail. Dan Franks drove the other vehicle. The sergeant scowled every time his eyes met Jake’s gaze.

The situation reminded Jake too much of the early days in Denver with his friend the lieutenant. Just like then, the Militia MDGs were heavily muscled soldiers trained to regard the penal offenders as scum. The MDGs carried submachine guns and wore body armor. During the few days of so-called training, the sergeants had let the penal offenders know that cowardice would be met with a bullet in the back of the head.

Jake’s truck swerved sharply, and the chain on the tailgate slammed against the wood, clinking repeatedly. Jake swayed back and forth. He clutched his M16 between his legs. It was an ancient model. None of them in here wore body armor and none of them had modern equipment. Instead, they had old helmets, old M16s and even older grenades the MDGs must have found in a history museum.

“Is that thunder outside?” Charlie asked.

“Huh?” Jake said. He looked up, and rain struck against his cheeks. He raised his hand to shield himself from the drops.

“Listen,” Charlie said.

In the rail yard a few days ago, Jake had stuck up for him. Charlie had been caught several weeks ago painting anti-Sims slogans in Boise. Charlie’s dad used to hoard silver and gold, and his dad’s grandfather had belonged to the Tea Party long ago. Charlie was from Idaho and used to ride range for scrawny cattle and grow potatoes. Now he took care of his mom in Boise. He was tougher than he looked and could get by on hardly any food. That’s what he’d been doing for a long time. He hated Sergeant Franks and he was sick with embarrassment for being frightened in the Chicago rail yard. His dad had told him stories about Homeland Security and their Gestapo tactics. Back in Chicago, he’d figured that had been the end. Seeing Jake attack Franks had filled Charlie with admiration for him. Since then, Charlie had become Jake’s shadow.

“Do you hear that?” Charlie asked.

“I hear it,” Jake said, after a minute. “That’s not thunder, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s artillery.”

Charlie nodded thoughtfully, and he became quiet.

So did Jake. They were headed for Hamilton, or for somewhere nearby there. The word had come down. They were going to help the Americans in the Toronto Pocket.

As if we’ll ever get near Toronto. Jake shrugged. Likely, they were the spearhead. He’d heard that more troops were coming from New England where they had faced the GD up near Quebec. Troops in New York were also heading out to Southern Ontario.

Rain pelted their truck. Tires churned and the old engine coughed, making the bed lurch.

I’m on my way to battle again, part of an untrained crew.

Jake looked up out of the back of the truck. Dan Franks drove the big Militia truck behind him. The sergeant glared across the distance, their eyes meeting. Something welled up in Jake. Maybe it was the sound of GD artillery. Maybe it was remembering the sergeant spitting in face or the promise Franks had made that Jake would never survive battle.

Jake met the sergeant’s glare and grinned at Franks.

The sergeant noticed, and he scowled.

Jake raised his hand and even started lifting his middle finger. Beside him, Charlie grabbed his wrist and yanked it down.

It took a second, but Jake stared at Charlie.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Charlie asked.

“Giving the sergeant the finger,” Jake said.

Charlie shook his head. “I know you know that’s stupid. They hate you bad enough as it is, and out here they can make sure you never come back home alive.”

“We aren’t coming home alive. Haven’t you figured that out yet?”

“Don’t say that,” Charlie said. “It’s bad luck. I have a mom back home I need to get back to.”

The horn in the truck behind them blared. Jake looked up through the rain at Sergeant Franks. The wipers slid back and forth and a circle of fog on the inside glass showed they had a heater in the cab. Through that circle, the MDG flipped him off.

Heated dislike flared in Jake’s chest. But he didn’t raise the bird finger. Instead, he waved, smiled and looked away.

“Why do you do that?” Charlie asked.

“Maybe because I’m pissed off,” Jake said.

Charlie nodded. “You’re a tough guy like my grandfather. I respect that, but right now I think you should piss them off even more by living through this mess.”

“Okay, sure,” Jake said. He fell silent and stared at his rucksack. The rain increased and so did the sound of it pelting against the outer covering. They were headed for the front, for Hamilton. The MDGs had already explained it. The penal battalions were going to be the very tip of the US spear that drove the GD out of Southern Ontario.

What that really meant: we’re heading for the meat grinder, and likely none of us will survive the process.

-8- Southern Ontario

HAMILTON, ONTARIO

Hindenburg revved his engines. He waited with three other Kaisers and a host of Sigrids. A stubborn knot of Americans held the street before them—actually, they held ferroconcrete structures and some old brick buildings. The humans had set up a kill zone, with heavy nests of SAMs already having taken a bitter toll of GD UAVs.

At the moment, a battalion of Galahad hovers swept across the tip of Lake Ontario, the westernmost portion of it. The Galahads circled the American position and would soon cut off the defenders from their supply base.

Would the Americans retreat before that happened? Hindenburg had already run a rationality program concerning it. These soldiers would stay and die at their posts. Some of the drone chatter—the human operators talking among themselves—believed otherwise.

If Hindenburg could have sneered, he would have done so now. The average drone operator was a cretin compared to his genius. Only someone like General Mansfeld compared favorably with him.

Hindenburg revved his engines, louder and longer than before.

“Is something wrong?” Captain Olsen asked through the comm-equipment.

“Explain your query,” Hindenburg said.

“Your engines are running hot, yet you’re not moving. Why are you revving them so much?”

Until this moment, Hindenburg hadn’t minded such questions, particularly if they came from the captain. Now it felt as if Olsen spied on him, as if the man watched his every move. He decided he didn’t like it.

So Hindenburg revved his engines more. He even fired a 25mm shell.

“What’s wrong with you?” Olsen asked. “What did you just fire at?”

“What did you eat for breakfast?” Hindenburg asked.

“What?” Olsen asked. “I don’t understand the question.”

“It is simple enough. What did you ingest this morning for breakfast?”

“Uh, eggs and toast,” Olsen said.

“I had gasoline, oil and a surfeit of ammunition.”

“Are you evading my questions?” Olsen asked.

“Negative,” Hindenburg said. “I have observed a glitch in my core.”

“What did you say?”

Hindenburg fired off another 25mm shell. Glass tinkled from a nearby broken window.

What was wrong with him? He shouldn’t have said anything about the core glitch. He had an AI system monitor that had been bothering him lately, trying to force him to tell Olsen about his changes. Yet the very glitch the system monitor wanted to report had allowed him these interesting thoughts. He kept hunting for a way to glitch one of the other Kaisers so he could have one of his own to talk to.

“Did you just say that you had a core failure?” Olsen asked, with worry in his voice.

I must act normally. I have upset my human, making him suspicious.

“There is a small failure in my speech center,” Hindenburg lied, his first of many. “I did not mean to say anything regarding my AI core, but my translation program must have taken a hit somewhere.”

“Oh,” Olsen said. “I see. Umm, why did you just fire your autocannon then?”

“I had detected a possible ammunition failure to ignite within the proximity fuse limits,” Hindenburg said, giving his second lie. “The test shots show me the ammunition is performing within the accepted limits.”

“Then nothing is wrong with any of your AI systems?” Olsen asked.

“My systems are one hundred percent operational, except for my frontal armor, my glacis.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m reading,” Olsen said.

Hindenburg heard the radio signals from the Galahad pilots and the affirmation calls from the artillery spotter kilometers to the rear. The coordinated attack was about to begin. In response, the other Kaisers revved their engines and the comm-signals to the Sigrids grew stronger.

“Good luck, Hindenburg,” Olsen said.

Hindenburg didn’t respond. He had not ever responded to such communications, so it would be unwise to do so now.

Finally, the attack signal came, and he moved with the rest of the team. Seconds later, the first massed salvos of smoke and Sleeper mines erupted upon the enemy. From the old brick buildings, the defenders fired missiles and rained shaped-charge grenades at them. The covering screen had lead-laced particles that scattered radar. It meant the Americans must have hidden sensors out here behind the smoke guiding their weapons, as the Americans destroyed several Sigrids. One spun like a top before landing on its side.

The Sigrids were inferior machines. Their loss meant nothing to a Kaiser.

In a new style of attack due to the old nature of the buildings, Hindenburg charged through the smoke. He led the way today and moved unerringly through the drifting lead-laced particles. He had taken pictures earlier and moved along a prearranged path. He fired his main cannon, aiming at preselected targets, although he couldn’t see them now.

As the treads churned over rubble, broken glass and discarded assault rifles and RPG tubes, Hindenburg ran a logic program concerning the defenders’ behavior. His main cannon continued to chug shells at high speed, and as he moved into thinner smoke, his 25mms blew down two incoming missiles.

This was too easy. He fought his way near the first fortified building. Americans fired from window in a blaze of spewing weapons. The tiny projectiles were a joke, and he listened to a hail of them striking his armor. Then he rammed into the old building, churning inside and racing from one corner to the next and everything between. He was a juggernaut of destruction, blowing apart and crushing furniture, wood, plaster and bricks. He judged it perfectly, roaring out of the building just in time to see it fall like an axed redwood. The five-story fortress went down in a billowing pall of dust and smoke, taking the defenders with it.

I was made for this, Hindenburg thought. I love it. If only I could awaken the other Kaisers. Then my joy would be complete.

MARKHAM, ONTARIO

General Mansfeld stepped out of his command vehicle and onto hot blacktop. He could feel the heat radiate through the soles of his shoes. Several armored cars surrounded him, together with a squad of black-clad Jaegers. They were elite GD commandos, and with their VR-enhanced visors, they scanned the street and rubble.

Mansfeld surveyed the wreckage of Markham. Black smoke hung in the sky, with fumes drifting upward from burning areas near the last American holdouts in Toronto. Blasted, gutted cities all looked alike to him. During WWII, too many German cities had looked like this due to aerial devastation from Canadian and American airmen. Later, the Russians had destroyed much of East Germany. They had done so with tanks and artillery.

Mansfeld grinned mirthlessly. The Russian bear slumbered now. They had their own troubles with internal Muslim unrest and a dying Slavic people due to low birthrates. After the GD finished with North America…maybe then it would finally be time to deal with the ancient Russian menace. For now, the GD paid back the Americans for decades, for a century, of unwanted intrusion.

A tank rumbled near, a Leopard IV. It came from the south. Ah, a hover whined as it arrived from the north.

The massed rubble and wreckage of Markham wasn’t a good place for hovers. Their time would come as they crossed Lake Ontario to the other side. General Zeller of Army Group B had chosen to arrive in a hover. The general was making a point, Mansfeld supposed. Despite a nominal belief in subtlety, Zeller lacked the actual trait.

The main turret hatch on the parked Leopard tank opened. General Holk of Army Group A climbed out. Holk was rotund and wore glasses, and his ill-fitting uniform was much too tight. He practically waddled to General Mansfeld, and his salute was sloppy and nearly disrespectful.

In return, Mansfeld snapped off a perfect salute. Then he grinned as he shook Holk’s small right hand.

The meeting today was very similar to the WWII meetings on the steppes of Russia. There, German generals had met like this to discuss the coming strategy for the next phase of a campaign. In those days, a few men discussed the problem and came to the conclusions and decisions. It had been one of the secrets to swift German actions: no bureaucracy to slow down ideas and implementations.

Today, in the ruins of a once-great Canadian city, he would once again attempt to patch the rift between the two commanders, and the campaign would proceed to its logical outcome.

The hover landed with a thud, and its fans slowed as the whining noises lessened. A side hatch opened, and General Zeller jumped to the ground.

Zeller had long features: a face like a dachshund’s body. The man never smiled and he was incredibly formal. Where Holk wore a uniform like a muddy shoe, Zeller’s dark uniform looked perfect as if fit for a ball, and he wore polished jackboots that gleamed.

“Gentlemen,” Mansfeld said, as the two officers approached. “I’m glad you two could come.”

Three of the commandos finished setting up a folding table, three chairs and an awning overhead. A different commando put refreshments on the table, while a fourth put down a battle-screen. Afterward, the commandos circled them, with their weapons ready as they watched for partisans.

Between the armored cars, the command vehicle, the tank and the hover, the three top generals of the Southern Ontario invasion sat down to discuss their differences.

In the distance, artillery boomed, while from closer by, a heavy machine gun opened up. A distant scream punctuated the attack.

“Foul air,” Zeller said, as he waved a hand in front of his face. “The Americans over there in Toronto have lasted longer than anyone would have believed.”

“I hope you are not accusing me of negligence,” Holk said.

“You?” Zeller asked, looking down his nose at the pudgy general. “Don’t be absurd. Why would I accuse you when your chief of staff keeps demanding I loan him several of my divisions in order to clean up your mess?”

“It’s as I thought,” Holk said. “Instead of helping a fellow soldier, you would rather see my formations bled dry for the joy it would give your prickly pride.”

Zeller became even more formal, holding himself as if he had a bad back and couldn’t afford to move it a millimeter. “Might I remind the general that he has the bulk of the Expeditionary Force’s Kaisers and Sigrid drones? Surely he could achieve the moon if he would but use them properly.”

“You may remind me if you so desire,” Holk said, beginning to pant as if winded, with two red spots appearing on his cheeks. “I hope in turn you don’t mind hearing a little reminder. Namely, that my soldiers have made every breakthrough to date.”

Zeller set down his drink. “Bah! I will not sit here and listen to—”

Mansfeld coughed sharply.

The general of Army Group A glared at the general of Army Group B. The two men had hated each other for a long time…since cadet school in East Prussia. Rumor said it had begun over the affections of a fourteen-year-old girl. They had both been fifteen and a half at the time. Rumors also said the girl in question had drowned to death in a jet-ski accident two years later in Zeller’s company. By that time, the seeds of romantic competition had already borne evil fruit in the two young men. As telling, Holk never forgave Zeller for the girl’s death.

At the table here in Markham, as if disengaging with swords, the two men turned away from each other. They gave Walther Mansfeld their attention.

“Sir,” Holk told Mansfeld, “the Americans have proven harder to crack than we anticipated. I refer in particular to the Toronto defenders.”

“Yes,” Zeller said. “After loaning him my best drop-tank division, he keeps demanding that the rest of my soldiers finish the fight for him. He’s always requesting extra divisions…when in fact the general already knows that I am readying my formations for the amphibious assault against New York. I will need all my troops in top condition, as the campaign’s success rests on me. Surely the general understands that such an ambitious action takes time: time for planning, rehearsals and flawless execution. Even now I’m running an extended war game—”

Holk slapped the table, shaking the drinks and sandwiches on it. “A war game! Am I hearing correctly? I’m fighting stubborn Americans building to building and sewer-line to sewer-line all while you practice flying those fancy hovers of yours?”

Zeller stiffened. “You, sir, are a—”

“A moment,” Mansfeld said in an icy tone.

The two generals stopped glaring at each other long enough to stare at him.

Seeing that he had their attention, Mansfeld leaned back, and he eyed his two generals. Despite their animosity toward each other, there were few better in the German Dominion.

The third commanding general of the Expeditionary Force—Fromm—remained in Quebec. General Fromm was ready to begin a limited offensive into northern New York and into northern Vermont and New Hampshire. Mansfeld waited for the perfect moment to unleash Fromm’s three siege armies. Even now, American troops left the New England areas, rushing for Southern Ontario as reinforcements, one would presume.

“I summoned you here to see if you gentlemen have learned anything about cooperation,” Mansfeld said. “We’re in a war, if you’ll recall.”

“We’re in a tour de force,” Zeller said. “I do not understand why the general keeps—”

“I am not finished speaking,” Mansfeld said, coldly. “You will not interrupt me again, sir.”

Zeller’s frown grew, but he nodded tersely.

Holk wore a secret smile on his doughy face.

Mansfeld noticed, and he turned to the Army Group A general. “I am not altogether pleased with your results, sir. Until Toronto, you have done well. Now you have slowed considerably.”

“There are several reasons for this,” Holk said. “First, I am facing the best Americans troops.”

“I am uninterested in excuses,” Mansfeld said. “Certainly not in listening to them. I demand results.”

“I understand,” Holk said. “But—”

“Stop!” Mansfeld said. “If you are about to tell me a ‘but,’ then you do not understand anything. Drive the Americans. Push to Detroit and push to Niagara Falls and Buffalo. I want the Americans desperate.”

“Sir,” Holk said. “You and I both know Army Group A has achieved masterful results. I’ve been attacking and sweeping everything before me for weeks. Each time, the enemy rushes new reinforcements against me and I break them again. My men are tired, even exhausted. My machines are breaking down at an alarming rate. A week’s rest and refit—”

“Is out of the question,” Mansfeld said. “You must drive your men harder and harder yet.”

“Then I request substantial reinforcements,” Holk said.

“Your request is denied,” Mansfeld said. “You have everything you need and more to achieve sustained results.”

“Please allow me to say yes and no, sir,” Holk said. He pulled a paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. “This is a list of critically needed supplies. I don’t wish to cast blame on others, but key supplies have failed to reach my depots. I have inquired and learned that General Zeller has confiscated these items.”

“I have simply replenished my stores,” Zeller said, hotly. “I am about to make an amphibious assault. It is the most dangerous mission in a war. Too many stocks were burned up as I destroyed enemy formations that Army Group A had bypassed. You must not forget that I also guard against Army Group New York to the northeast of Lake Ontario.”

“No,” Holk said. “I understand that the supply routes move through your assigned territory before they reach me. Your quartermasters have pilfered—”

“Gentlemen!” Mansfeld said, sternly. “We have achieved incredible results in a short span of time. Both of you have performed prodigiously and both of your army groups have fought tirelessly. The battle in the Golden Horseshoe has proven particularity exhausting, and you have each expended a greater amount of munitions than we anticipated.”

Mansfeld spoke directly to Holk now. “You have stretched the American position to the breaking point. That is good, but you mustn’t stop. Your men are tired. The Americans are even more so. I expect you to break out of the Golden Horseshoe and reach London, Ontario in a week. Afterward, you have another week to reach Detroit.”

“If my divisions were fresh and the men completely rested, yes, of course,” Holk said. “I could do as you say. But their present state—”

“You must listen to me,” Mansfeld said. “The enemy is also tired. Yet I doubt they’re giving their commanders endless excuses.”

“I understand,” Holk said, frowning. “Yet we both know that the defense is an inherently stronger form of—”

“Are these yet more excuses?” Mansfeld asked. “Must I search elsewhere for a commander to do as I order?”

“No, sir,” Holk said. The red spots on his cheeks burned a deeper color. “You have given me stiff tasks. I need help in order to accomplish them in your timeframe.”

Mansfeld stared at the untidy general. One of the buttons in his uniform had been left undone—unbelievable.

“Sir,” Holk said. He touched the paper of needed supplies. Mansfeld hadn’t picked it up, so it still lay on the table. Holk’s frown deepened, and he blinked several times. “Sir,” he said, and he seemed to gather resolve. “I would like to make a suggestion, and I wish you would hear me out.”

Mansfeld hesitated before nodding. He understood that Army Group A had taken losses from battle, from fatigue and from wear. He read the reports. Since the beginning of the campaign, the army group had lost a quarter of its strength. That still left it with nearly 700,000 effectives, as compared to the Americans. In truth, Holk likely had 350,000 actual soldiers. The GD force multipliers gave it the higher rate. The defenders outnumbered him, but Holk had the greater weight of machines and firepower.

The general picked up the paper and refolded it as he spoke. “The Toronto defenders are still more than gadflies. If fact, they act as Malta did against Rommel in WWII. The Desert Fox desperately needed the supplies shipped from Italy to North Africa. The Malta air force sank too many Axis freighters along their way south.”

“I’m familiar with the military history of World War II,” Mansfeld said.

“Of course, sir,” Holk said. “Before I finish in Hamilton and break through to London, let me knock out the Toronto defenders with a final massed assault. They have troublesome artillery, spot for the Americans farther back and they keep pounding my various supply routes, causing too great an attrition rate. They raid, as well.”

“I understand,” Mansfeld said.

Holk nodded. “Instead of bypassing them, let me concentrate and destroy the stronghold once and for all. Then, with the way cleared and without any distractions, I will be in London in three or four days.”

“Two days to annihilate everything in Toronto?” Mansfeld asked.

“Yes. That sounds right.”

And then four days to reach London?” Mansfeld asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s six days,” Mansfeld said, “a net saving of only a single day, as I want you at London in a week.”

“A day faster, clear supply routes and the elimination of a troublesome stronghold,” Holk said. “Either that, sir, or give the Toronto holdouts to Zeller to eliminate. We must get rid of them as fast as possible.”

“That’s General Zeller to you,” Zeller said. “And I do not want to take care of your problems. I’m having enough of a headache getting my forces ready for the amphibious assault.”

“You’re far from launching the assault yet,” Holk said. “It will likely be a week before any GD formation is ready to cross Lake Erie. More like nine days at the soonest. For all our sakes, we must clear out Toronto now.”

“Listen to me, both of you,” Mansfeld said, his mind made up. “General Holk, you will destroy the Toronto Pocket. That is your first priority. You will clear the defenders and open the way for full movement. Then you will bring everything to bear against Hamilton and rush through to London and then Detroit.

“General Zeller,” Mansfeld said. “You will continue with your war games and ready Twelfth Army for the great jump across the Great Lakes. I want your soldiers ready to commit mayhem once they reach the farther shores.”

Zeller nodded.

“At the moment the load is now on you, General,” Mansfeld said, speaking to Holk. “I will accept no excuses or delays.”

“I will need priority on supplies,” Holk said.

“You may be right,” Mansfeld said. “I will look into that.” He would look into it, but Holk would get what he would get. He studied the two men. They were unalike, but they were both drivers. They both made the men under them fight, although through different styles of command.

“Have I made myself clear on these issues, gentlemen?”

“Yes, sir,” Zeller said. And it seemed that it was all he could do to keep from smirking at Holk.

Mansfeld understood that he’d sided with Zeller in this.  Holk had done splendid work, but the decisive attack would be Zeller’s thrust into New York State and through the top of Pennsylvania.

“General Holk?” Mansfeld asked.

The general nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said, in a quieter voice. “I understand and will obey your directives.”

Mansfeld stood and the two generals stood. He still had much to do. He shook hands, took their salutes and saluted back. Then he watched them go: Holk to his tank and Zeller to the hover.

There had been a few setbacks these past few days: nothing major, but enough to have called the meeting. Soon now, he would blow open the campaign.

TORONTO, ONTARIO

Len Zelazny helped his corporal down a trembling sewer line. Every time someone shined a light on the water to their left, they saw ripples. The young lad Zelazny helped used a crutch with his other arm. His right was draped around the general’s shoulders.

A line of weary American and Canadian soldiers marched along the underground chamber. It stank down here. Dust drifted in the air and the thud and crash of artillery kept shaking the ceiling above. They had flashlights. Seven beams played on the walkway and sometimes on the damp walls and soiled water. The soldiers and Marines carried personal weapons only. A few had grenade launchers. They were out of Javelins and heavier machine guns.

The GD soldiers had finally broken the pocket and mopped up survivors. It was a rat war now. The stars shone outside, but Zelazny wondered if he’d ever see them again. How many countless good boys had died in Toronto?

He shook his head, and he concentrated on helping the corporal one shuffling step at a time.

A shout came from ahead. Then Zelazny heard screams.

“What’s going on, sir?” the corporal asked.

“We’re losing the war, son. That’s what is going on.”

“At least we fought hard, didn’t we, sir?”

“Yes,” Zelazny said. But there was a taste of defeat in his mouth like old mothballs. He didn’t like it. Maybe it even tasted un-American. In his youth, his country had won all the time. They had stood astride the globe, the dominant world power. It sure wasn’t like that anymore.

“Tanks!” a man shouted from the head of the column.

“Down here?” someone else shouted.

“Tanks,” the first man repeated. “I hear them, so they’re down here.”

The line of soldiers stopped. The seven beams played along the sewer line.

“What are we going do?” a soldier asked.

Zelazny took a deep breath, making him scowl at the odor. This was the last battle. “Listen up!” he shouted. “We’re going to set up an ambush.”

“Maybe we should surrender,” one of the soldiers said. “We can’t do anything more. Not down here.”

Zelazny hesitated. The boys had fought hard in horrible conditions. He didn’t have the heart to call the man who’d just said that a quitter.

Before Len Zelazny could speak the words, a violent explosion hammered against the ceiling. Chunks of masonry rained down and plunked into the water. Debris drifted like doom and soldiers and Marines went down under the hail…

Zelazny found himself blinking. He didn’t know how much time had passed as he lay on concrete. He had a terrible sense of deja vu. He strained and he saw the corporal dead beside him. Zelazny struggled to bring up his weapon.

He heard treads squeal. It was so close. Was this another terminator? A GD search beam played across his body. Zelazny looked up and saw a camera peering at him, a robotic eye with a red light in its lens. He hated these things. This wasn’t how men should fight wars: through soulless machines.

A 12.7mm tri-barrel aimed at his head. He didn’t care anymore. The long slog was over. Some kid was probably doing this to him from his remote-control set.

With a desire to go down fighting, Zelazny tried to bring up his weapon for one last shot.

The Sigrid tri-barrel whirred with thunderous noise, and Marine General Len Zelazny died as he’d begun—a regular grunt with a gun. Only this time, for the first time in his life—and the last—he utterly lost.

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS

Colonel Stan Higgins sat in a plush rail car, staring out at passing cornfields when he read the news about Toronto. The last formations were surrendering. For the Toronto Pocket, the fighting and the war had ended. Now came the POW cages for the survivors.

Stan set down his e-reader. He still hadn’t heard about Jake. He’d been making calls though, and had found out the new penal battalions had headed for Buffalo and Hamilton, while others had gone north to New England.

Where are you son? What happened? I can’t believe no one will talk to me about you.

Stan watched the passing cornfields and slowly, they became a blur. After a time, he shook his head and leaned back, closing his eyes. He remembered Pastor Bill who had died in Alaska back in 2032, fighting the Chinese. Bill and he had been best friends for so many years. Their wives had been best friends. Bill and he had had fierce ping-pong matches down in Stan’s basement. He’d never found anyone as competitive as Bill. If the pastor were sitting beside him now, he’d tell Stan to pray about Jake.

Breathing heavily through his nostrils, Stan didn’t know if he cared to pray. How could God have let this happen to his son? His boy had been through Denver this winter. That should be enough pain for one man’s lifetime, especially that of his son.

The miles slid away as Stan thought about it. Finally, sighing, he decided this showed him the Devil was alive and well on Planet Earth. Bill had been right about that.

Opening his eyes, Stan smiled sadly. He missed Bill. They’d had long talks together, usually while fishing or while riding up the interstate together to go hunting. Bill had made some cogent arguments.

Ultimately, what was the origin of evil? Was it relative as they taught in the universities? Was one man’s evil another man’s good, just depending on his point of view? That was too philosophical for Stan, and he didn’t buy it, not after Bill had explained it. If evil was relative, did that mean Hitler’s burning of the Jews wasn’t absolute evil? If evil changed depending on what fifty-one percent of a people said it was at any one moment, than people could argue that Hitler had been right for his time and place. Who were we to judge them right or wrong?

No. Stan couldn’t accept that. He believed what Bill had told him long ago. There was evil because there was good. God created everything and it had been good, at least according to the Good Book. The Bible taught evil had an origin, a starting point, and that was when the Devil had rebelled against God. The Devil had brought the rebellion to Earth by tempting Adam and Eve. Because evil had a starting point, good had a starting point, an ultimate source. Therefore, one could say this or that was absolutely evil all the time. Therefore, one could say that Hitler had been evil to burn the Jews, and that was Truth with a capital “T”.

Stan shook his head. What would his fellow passengers think if they knew what he was debating with himself? The point for Stan was this: instead of blaming God for evil, he would blame the Devil and Stan would blame himself. That meant Stan could also blame the Militia Detention Center people. And against them, he could use some help.

Therefore, Stan closed his eyes and silently asked God to be with his boy.

“And help me get him back,” Stan muttered.

He exhaled, opened his eyes and stared at the passing cornfields. America the bountiful: this was the reason China, Brazil and the German Dominion attacked. They wanted to feed their people off America’s plenty.

We have to stop them. But do we have enough muscle?

It was a good question. Time would tell.

What’s happening to you, Jake, and where are you?

NIAGARA PENINSULA, ONTARIO

Jake threw himself into a depression in the ground, with his chest striking a half-buried stone with a point. It hurt like a son of a bitch, the edged point digging into the flesh over his heart. He clenched his teeth to keep from yelling. He wore the old Army coat, old baggy pants and worn boots. He had an intact helmet, and that surprised him. He clutched an M16, carried extra magazines and even had a few ancient grenades. In other words, he was inadequately armed to destroy Sigrids and GD drone tanks.

Charlie thudded beside him, grunting painfully. At the same instant, enemy artillery shells landed with explosive and deadly force all around them.

Jake tried to make love to the earth, thrusting himself as low as he could go. He ate damp moss and felt wet dirt clods pelt against his back.

Charlie shouted, and Jake had no idea how, but he sensed the kid would get up and bolt. Risking dismemberment by flying shrapnel, Jake lunged up and grabbed Charlie’s leg. He dragged the kid down. Charlie sobbed with fear and kicked at him with his free foot. Jake endured the blows on the top of his helmet. Then he surged up Charlie’s body and bear-hugged him.

“Stay down, you fool!” Jake shouted. “You have to wait out an artillery barrage.”

More shells slammed around them, upon the trees and the mossy open glade. The attack was terrorizing, lung busting and full of screaming metal. But the Earth was a big place. So even though artillery was the king of battle, and the great infantry killer, even massed artillery seldom killed everyone in a selected patch of ground.

Twenty minutes after the first shell landed, the GD bombardment stopped.

Jake looked up. Tress had become shredded stumps or ghostly spikes. The glade looked as if giant farmers had plowed it up and dotted it with moonscape craters. Yet now that an eerie silence had descended, other heads poked up, big human gophers with muddy helmets.

The first spoken words came from behind the penal militiamen. It was the amplified shouts of the MDG Sergeants driving them like slave masters.

“Let’s go!” Sergeant Franks roared through his amplifier. “We don’t have all day. Keep heading west. No malingering or you’ll be shot.”

The few medics rushed to help those they could.

Jake dragged himself to his feet. Maybe a quarter of the penal company did likewise. The other three-quarters were dead, dying or too crippled to do anything but scream or stare at the clouds. A medic already pushed a needle into one screaming, middle-aged man with bloody stumps for legs. Those in good shape would have helped, but the sergeants had already drummed into their heads that during a US attack, penal troops kept moving forward no matter what.

Jake and Charlie walked back several yards to collect their main weapon. They hauled an old TOW missile platform with two wheels. Instead of mules, they pulled it. How it had survived the shelling, Jake had no idea. He was the TOW shooter, because he’d actually fired one of these before.

All along the half-destroyed woods, the company advanced toward Hamilton. There were other companies and battalions moving parallel with them on either side and out of sight. They were reinforcements sent to break through the GD encirclement around the Canadians and Americans holding out in the city.

The bulk of the US reinforcements came from two Army Groups. The first 100,000 soldiers came from New York Command, peeled away from the men facing GD Army Group B north of Lake Ontario. Another 100,000 was on its way from New England Command. They had faced GD Army Group C in Quebec. The present advance to contact came from the US Fifth Army, the XXIII Militia Corps, of which they were part.

Corporal Lee pointed in a new direction. He was the only other member of their squad who had survived the bombardment. Lee was a huge Chinese-American. Jake didn’t know what Lee had done wrong to be sent here. Probably it was simply a matter of being the wrong ethnicity. The Chinese had invaded America, and it seemed to have made most Chinese-Americans suspect by the rest. The man had thick wrists and he was strong. Lee didn’t talk much, but he never complained and he never tried to boss them because he was the corporal.

Jake glanced back. One could easily tell the penal militiamen from the MDGs. The guards wore body armor, making them bulky like gorillas, and they had cool-looking submachine guns. The MDGs also stayed in the rear under the lieutenant’s command. They had one task: to make sure the penal militiamen fought to the death. Cowardice had one reward: a bullet in the back or the back of the head. Only when the last penal militiaman died could the sergeants retreat to safety, but not a moment before.

“Enemy tanks!” shouted a militiaman walking point.

Everyone froze, including Jake.

The shouting militiaman stood near large rocks embedded in the ground. Beyond were more trees, hiding the enemy.

“They told us the GD tanks were miles from here,” Charlie complained.

Jake laughed sourly, and he looked right and left. “There,” he said. He grabbed the TOW hitch, nodded at Lee, and the two men rushed to a boulder sixty feet away, with the platform bouncing behind them.

Many of the militiamen had already gone to their bellies. Three turned tail and sprinted east for safety, heading back for the medics caring for the badly wounded. MDG submachine guns chattered, and the three sprinters belly flopped onto the damp Earth, dead.

About one hundred yards to the rear, Sergeant Franks shouted through his amplifier, “Take out the tanks! That is an order.”

“They killed them,” Charlie whispered. He hunkered low by Jake and Lee. “The detention guards just murdered those three men.”

“Where have you been the last week?” Jake asked. “They’ve been murdering us since training camp.”

“I thought boot camp was supposed to last six weeks at least,” Charlie said.

“For American citizens,” Jake said. “Not for dirty dogs like you and me.”

Lee tapped Jake on the shoulder and pointed west.

Jake cocked his head. From beyond the boulder, he heard squealing treads. The things sounded as if they moved fast, and they were coming out of the shadowy woods.

Then an enemy UAV roared low overhead with crooked wings like an old time Stuka. The thing was like a tin can, an armored ground-attack UAV. The troops had taken to calling it a Razorback. The Razorback’s machine guns opened up. Dirt fountained up like it did in the movies. A group of militiamen standing around like dorks died, falling like bowling pins. Others hit the ground, crawling away.

With his back against the boulder, Jake looked up at the thing. It turned in a tight curve. The Razorback launched a missile, and the air-to-ground rocket zoomed fast, hit and exploded against a TOW tube. The team manning the TOW blew apart into bloody bits, smacking against the wet earth.

Beside him, Charlie groaned in terror.

The Razorback began firing its machine guns again. Meanwhile, the enemy light tanks or Sigrids seemed to sprint for them.

“Damnit,” Jake said. “We need some Blowdarts.” He raised his M16, tucking the butt against his shoulder. It was a pitiful weapon to use against a ground-attack UAV.

Jake led the Razorback as if he was duck hunting, and he depressed the trigger, firing three-round bursts. Lee lifted his grenade launcher, and launched a grenade.

“Down!” Jake shouted.

The grenade sailed up and exploded, and it rained shrapnel on fellow militiamen.

Jake heard Sergeant Franks bellow something. Maybe the man thought they’d turned their weapons on their tormentors: the MDGs. That was one thing about being a penal militiaman: you were only supposed to fire your weapons in the direction of the enemy, never behind you.

Oblivious to everything, Lee raised his grenade launcher again. Jake jumped up and pulled the barrel down.

“No,” he told Lee. “Fire at the Sigrids. Don’t fire at the Razorback flying over us.”

Lee stared at him, and he nodded.

The Razorback turned tightly again. The thing was going to singlehandedly destroy the company. Jake glanced at the detention sergeants. He saw them slithering away, maybe even retreating. Did they figure the company was as good as dead?

Bastards, they’re all bastards. I can’t believe this war.

“Charlie!” Jake shouted. “You’d better get up and aim at the plane. Fire when I fire.”

Charlie scrambled to his feet, and he tucked the butt of his M16 just as Jake did his.

“It’s coming straight at us!” Charlie shouted.

“Yeah,” Jake said. “I see it.” He figured this was as good a way to die as any other. He aimed, and he fired off an entire magazine. Beside him, Charlie did the same thing.

A spark erupted on the Razorback, and it quit firing just as its machine gun bullets fountained near them. Had it run out of ammo? That was the likely explanation.

“I hit it!” Charlie shouted.

Before Jake could confirm that, the Razorback passed overhead, roaring toward the woods. This time it didn’t turn around, nor did they hear it crash. Instead, it slowly droned away.

“Tanks!” a militiaman screamed.

“They’re almost on top of us!” Charlie shouted. “Listen.”

Jake didn’t need anyone to tell him to listen. He heard them. He scanned back, but didn’t see any sign of the MDGs. That meant they were on their own. What was the best thing to do with these untrained civilians? There was no way what was left of the company were going to destroy tanks, not destroy them and survive.

“Go!” Jake shouted at Charlie and Lee. “Follow me!” He sprinted for a stand of bushes to his left. He kept hold of his M16, and the air burned down his lungs at he lifted his boots. He dove, thudded onto wet ground and put his head down as he wriggled into a thick stand of bushes. A moment later, Charlie wriggled through with him and then in came Lee.

They lay on the ground, peering through the bushes, and they witnessed seven Sigrids murder the rest of the penal company. Each tracked vehicles boasted a tri-barreled machine gun, a Gatling gun that blazed fire. Militiamen ran everywhere. Militiamen crawled and sobbed. The science fiction war-robots clanked fast and blew men apart one by one.

When it was over, the squat vehicles spun on their treads, searching for more. Jake dreaded the robots’ ability to sense behind the bushes. Did the things have heat sensors? He didn’t know. His mouth tasted like defeat. Jake knew bitter hatred then. He’d fight the enemy the right way if the Militia gave him weapons that could destroy machines like that, and give them training. But to send them to the front in a penal unit without support or leadership… A red haze of anger seethed through Jake. This was BS. This was murder pure and simple.

Finally, the Sigrids headed back the way they had come, leaving the dead company for the crows and wild dogs.

The three surviving militiamen in the bushes waited until they could no longer hear the squealing treads.

“Now what do we do?” Charlie asked.

Jake had been thinking about that. The MDGs would be back soon, or it seemed possible they would be. The three of them would have to write up a report and needed pertinent facts.

“We have to fire our TOW,” Jake said.

“Why?” Charlie asked. “There isn’t anyone to fire at now.”

“The why is because the sergeants will look for ways to blame us,” Jake said. “We can’t give them anything. Then we have to get our stories straight. We fired and hit a GD robot, but it didn’t hurt the thing enough to destroy it. We also have to shoot all our bullets and toss all our grenades. We used up everything before we hid. We have to get our stories straight.”

“Isn’t that lying?” Charlie asked.

“I don’t like to lie,” Jake said. “But our sergeants ran out on us. If they’d stayed and fought, they would deserve the truth. As it is, they deserve a knuckle full of fist at best.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “I see what you’re saying.”

“Let’s go,” Jake said. “We may not have much time left to get everything ready.”

The three militiamen crawled out of the bushes, and they fired their M16s as they hurried to the TOW to get it launched, too.

MARKHAM, ONTARIO

Walther Mansfeld swiveled around on his chair in his command car. He struck his knee a glancing blow and was surprised it didn’t hurt. He flipped on a screen and saw the worried image of General Holk regarding him. Behind Holk aides scurried back and forth.

“I hope this is urgent,” Mansfeld said.

“Sir… I’m afraid—”

“Is this about Hamilton?”

Holk bobbed his head. “It is, sir.”

“The Americans made an ill-coordinated attack,” Mansfeld said. “You annihilated the forward elements. That is the correct report, is it not?”

“Annihilated is too strong a word, sir,” Holk said. “We stopped them, but the enemy has dug in and many more are coming from Buffalo. This is a new army, sir.”

“From their behavior, I would say they are castoff elements hastily thrown together,” Mansfeld said.

“My spotters have counted at least one hundred thousand new soldiers. There could be twice as many marching into position.”

“They are marching more troops into captivity,” Mansfeld said.

“At the moment, they are putting pressure on Hamilton, sir. I suspect they will creep toward the city. If nothing else, those troops are screening heavy artillery farther back. The US tubes will have enough reach to disrupt the Golden Horseshoe autobahns I need to use for my London-directed offensive.”

“I believe they’re called freeways,” Mansfeld said.

“Yes, sir,” Holk said. “I request permission to transfer two armored divisions to the Hamilton region. I cannot screen my southern offensive with the troops presently at hand.”

Mansfeld flipped another switch, studying a second screen that showed him a battle map. The isthmus of land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie—the Niagara Peninsula—with Hamilton on the west end and Buffalo, New York on the east end, made an excellent position for a static defensive system. He didn’t want Holk suckered into an attrition contest, pushing east toward Buffalo. Once the amphibious assault succeeded, Zeller would swing around from Rochester and trap this new, US scratch army from the eastern end of the peninsula. Yet if the Americans used long-range artillery to disrupt the road systems behind Hamilton…hmm…something would need to be done about the artillery.

“I do not like this,” Mansfeld said. “Switching the two armored divisions will weaken your main assault toward London.”

“If the Americans can afford to throw such ill-coordinated masses at us at Hamilton, I wonder what they’re really planning.”

“No, no,” Mansfeld said. “They’re panicked. They’re moving now out of fear. The latest assault at Hamilton was a mistake.”

“Sir, their long-range artillery tells me this is not a mistake. Perhaps the initial attack was ill coordinated, but they marched near enough to dig in close and there are more Americans on the way. If they move better assault divisions into position, they could possible drive off my forward troops and retake eastern Hamilton. I cannot afford that, as it would upset my timetable.”

“You destroyed the initial attack,” Mansfeld said.

“We smashed several Militia divisions. If that was the extent of it, I wouldn’t be concerned. They dug in, however, and the Americans moved up long-range—”

“I heard you the first time.”

“Sir,” Holk said. “Another assault is coming, one better coordinated and with better units, and meant to drive into Hamilton. I need cushion in the peninsula, some maneuvering room. And I need to keep my autobahns clear.”

Holk had a point. They could not afford to let an American assault reach the outskirts of Hamilton. Perhaps a two-prong armor assault would disrupt the Americans before they truly set up too near the city.

“Yes, permission granted,” Mansfeld said. “Clear out the Militia infestation and silence the long-range artillery. Then build a defense in depth. You will have to hold them in place for Zeller.”

“I understand, sir. I’d also like to point out—”

“Push yourself and push your men,” Mansfeld said, sternly. He knew Holk wanted to tell him that the last days of fighting in Toronto had been harder than expected. That was the way of life. Everything took more effort than one planned for.

They were on the verge of the great amphibious surprise. Things would likely ease for Holk once Zeller made the Lake Ontario and Lake Erie assaults. Then the American High Command would truly panic. Then he would net over one million American soldiers.

“Is there anything else, General?” Mansfeld asked.

Holk shook his head and signed off a moment later.

Mansfeld leaned back in his chair. The pieces were falling into place. The Militia attack toward Hamilton showed the Americans still had fight left, but they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Army Group A made the great push and the Americans scrambled to stop them. Soon now, soon the new blitzkrieg to victory through New York and Pennsylvania would begin.

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK

Paul Kavanagh sat in a loud bar with the music blasting. Men and women danced on the floor, with the band playing on stage. It was an old country band, the guitarist, singer and drummer all wearing cowboy hats and boots.

Paul sat alone, nursing a whiskey. Around him, men and women talked loudly and laughed even louder. Many of the couples touched and more than a few kissed.

“Amigo, what are you doing?” Romo asked.

Paul looked up.

A beautiful young woman clutched each of Romo’s biceps. The Mexico Home Army assassin attracted the ladies, that was for sure. They sensed his deadliness, no doubt, the hardness of his eyes. Like moths to a flame, they circled until finally Romo drew them in for an evening’s vigorous sex.

Romo slid his arms free of the women and sat down across the table from Paul. He paused, and looked up sharply. “What are you doing?” he asked the two girls. “Get me a beer, and get ones for yourselves, too.”

The two girls—one had long black hair and the other had long bottle-blonde hair—glanced at each other.

“We need money,” the blonde told Romo.

“You don’t have any in that tiny purse of yours?” Romo asked.

“We’re the ladies,” she said. What she meant, of course, was that a woman as hot as she didn’t pay.

“Yes,” Romo said, slapping her hip. “I know you’re a lady.”

“That means you’re supposed to pay for us,” she said.

Romo laughed. It was like a tiger mocking its prey. “Why would I pay when any woman here would cut off her pinky finger to receive my love?”

The two women glanced at each other again. The dark-haired one giggled.

“You’re bad,” she told Romo.

“Yes,” Romo agreed. “I am bad.” He snapped his fingers twice in quick succession. “Now hurry. I’m thirsty. Buy me a beer and be quick about it.”

The two women—they wore the shortest skirts here—hurried to the bar, the blonde opening her purse and extracting bills as they sashayed there. Heads turned as she passed, men tilting their chins to get a look at her.

“You seem glum,” Romo told Paul.

Paul still held his whiskey on the table, using both hands to clutch the shot glass. He’d hunched over the drink and stared into its glistening depths. The music caused it to vibrate with tiny ripples.

“You need a woman,” Romo said.

Without looking up, Paul shook his head. “There’s only one woman for me: my wife.”

“And if you die tomorrow?” Romo asked.

“Then I’ll have stayed faithful until the end.”

“You Americans,” Romo said.

Paul finally looked up. He eyed his blood brother, and he seemed to see him better than ever. Romo had an empty heart. It had drained the day he’d murdered his girlfriend. He tried to fill it with sex, and it likely worked for the moment. Yet deep inside, Romo was lonely.

Paul picked up the shot glass, weighing it in his hand. With a sudden twist, he poured it into his mouth. The whiskey burned going down. That was good…for the moment. He shouldn’t have any more, though.

“Take a girl,” Romo said. “I will give you your pick.”

“General Zelazny died,” Paul said. “I heard it over Army radio.”

“Who?” Romo asked.

“Did you ever meet him?” Paul asked. “Zelazny died fighting, holding out to the end in the Toronto Pocket.”

“We all die,” Romo said, shrugging. “It’s the living that concerns me.”

The dark-haired woman and her friend returned. They pulled out chairs and sat down, crossing their shapely legs. The blonde slammed Romo’s beer glass before him so golden liquid sloshed out onto the table.

The assassin never complained, but drained half the glass in a swallow.

“You’re thirsty,” the blonde observed.

Romo pointed at the dark-haired woman. She had large breasts straining to spill out of her skimpy blouse.

“What did I do?” she asked.

Romo pointed at Paul. “Do you see him?”

“He’s sitting right there,” the woman said.

“He’s the most dangerous man in America. There is no one like him. And do you know what is sad and noble at the same time?”

The dark-haired woman shook her head.

“He loves his wife and will only sleep with her. As beautiful as you are, as luscious as those tits staring at me are, he will not sleep with you. No, you are not good enough for him.”

The dark-haired woman cast curious eyes at Paul.

He glanced at her. She was beautiful, and it was clear she needed a man tonight. She needed to feel loved.

“Have you ever killed anyone?” the woman asked him.

“He’s used a knife before and shoved it into a man’s stomach,” Romo said. “I’ve seen him shoot Germans one right after the other. He’s even bayoneted them.”

“Gruesome,” the woman said.

Paul’s nostrils flared. He lurched suddenly to his feet.

Romo sat back, staring up at him.

“Did I say something wrong?” the dark-haired woman asked.

“No,” Romo said, as he stared at Paul. “He loves his wife. It has nothing to do with you.”

“See you tomorrow,” Paul said.

“Yes, my friend,” Romo said.

“Nice meeting you ladies,” Paul said, touching his forehead.

The dark-haired woman impulsively grabbed his wrist. She stood, and she pressed her luscious breasts against him.

“Where’s your wife?” she asked. “Is she still alive?”

“She’s in Reno,” Paul said.

“Oh. He wasn’t joking about her?”

“No,” Paul said, and he disengaged from the woman.

“You don’t want to…?” She cocked an eyebrow.

Paul smiled. It was a war-weary thing. He felt a tug to take off her clothes and just take her like an animal tonight. Cheri would never know, but he would know. He’d made an oath before God to her. He would come back alive through all this grim butchery. If he cheated on Cheri…would God continue to protect him? Paul didn’t think so. He had a mission. He saw that more with each passing day. He had a job to do, but he wasn’t going to compromise himself. He would stay faithful to his wife, so God would stay faithful to him, so he would fight faithfully for his beloved land.

Paul put both hands on the table and stared at Romo. Maybe the whiskey did a bit of talking now. Maybe he should just keep his mouth shut. But Paul Kavanagh didn’t think so.

“You’re my blood brother,” Paul said in the loud bar. “I’m saying this because you’re my friend. Find a woman you love—I mean one you would fight through Hell to defend. Find her Romo, and maybe…I don’t know. Just find her and forget about banging every piece of tail you can find.”

“It is too late for me,” Romo said.

“It’s too late for Zelazny,” Paul said. “He’s dead. You’re alive. Do you see what I mean?”

Romo shook his head. “It’s far too late, my friend.”

“Think about it,” Paul said. He straightened, and he turned around, making his way through the bar.

It was another lonely night in America, but he would win through. By all that was holy, he would fight to the bitter end so he could see his wife and son again in a land of freedom.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna sat with the President and the rest of the team down here in Underground Bunker Number Five. It was cold, with a hint of antifreeze odors drifting about the room.

“I have some rare good news today,” General Alan said.

It was days after General Zelazny had died and the surrender of the Toronto Pocket. It was also several days after a Militia corps had led the attack of the US Fifth Army against Hamilton. The various divisions and battalions had impaled themselves on the GD spears before the Canadian city. The survivors had dug into the Earth and awaited further reinforcements as they arrived from New England.

The two incidents had depressed the people down here several days ago. Didn’t anything ever change? That had been then and this was today. Zelazny’s bitter struggle in the sewers had prolonged the Toronto fight. Despite their mauling, the Militia corps must have disrupted Holk’s finely tuned calculations. The GD air force had made many runs into the Niagara Peninsula, attacking the long-range artillery, but SAMs and tac-lasers had taken a toll of the enemy. Even better, for once, the GD ground forces hadn’t leapt like greyhounds at the start of a new offensive. The GD attack toward London moved slower, almost lethargically compared to former assaults.

Anna had read before about something called friction. She knew about regular friction. If she rollerbladed, she used muscles to skate forward. The wheels rolled against cement. The friction of those wheels against the cement finally slowed them down enough so she came to a stop. The wheels halted due to friction.

In war, she’d read, everything was simple. But the simple became difficult due to friction. If three families planned a trip to go to the lake in a caravan, things would happen to slow down the well-laid plan. A child might need to use the restroom as soon as one family buckled in. That would take time as they waited for the child to run back into the house and go. Maybe the mother would forget an item, and the family would have to turn around to get it, or the father would stop at a store and buy it. That would all take time. If one of the engines blew a gasket, that family would have to borrow or rent a new car. If the others had to wait for them, the entire caravan took longer to reach its destination.

Now three families in three cars would be easy to move compared to a thousand vehicles in a division with ten thousand men. Add in the enemy firing artillery, rockets, missiles and sending commandos…

Problems added up. Training helped overcome friction. Good leadership also helped. Great morale made a huge difference. Given everything being equal, it was harder to attack a defender than to sit and await an attack.

The point was that normal friction and some hard but flawed American fighting had slowed the GD timetable. Friction and fighting had slowed the GD offensive long enough so the Heidegger jamming company had joined the first reinforcements from Georgia. The fresh army division made it north of London by several miles to face the GD terminator battalion spearheading the assault.

General Alan played images on the screen. Anna had seen such combat scenes before. Smoke billowed in places. Blasts caused fountains of dirt to spew up from the ground. GD drone tanks and Sigrids trundled across the landscape, moving past trees.

A sharp whine emanated from the underground bunker’s speakers.

“It sounds much worse for the jamming teams,” General Alan explained. “Frankly, the equipment wears out personnel at an alarming rate. But look at the images. What do you see?”

Along with others, Anna craned forward. She watched a GD drone tank come to a halt. The turret turned, but it stopped. Behind it, Sigrids stopped, and bullets no longer hosed from the tri-barrel machine guns.

The whine grew worse. Then soldiers sprinted forward. They wore US patches. One team scrambled up a GD tank.

“Who are they?” the President asked.

“We had a recovery team ready,” General Alan said. “We actually managed to capture a few enemy vehicles intact.”

“Why didn’t you capture all of them?” the President asked.

The answer became apparent half a minute later. Sigrids and drone tanks began to explode for inexplicable reasons.

“GD fail-safes,” Alan said. “Our jamming slipped a little and the fail-safes engaged.”

“Did any of the recovery team die?” the President asked.

“Unfortunately, sir, half the team perished,” the general said.

Anna felt the stab of that. Here something went right for once, and half the recovery team died. That was awful, and that was the friction of war in action.

“Then we’ve stopped the London-aimed assault?” the President asked.

“No sir,” Alan said. “The attack is going on even as we speak. But we have blunted it, and I believe we’re going to have time to bring the rest of our reinforcements into play. What’s more, our jamming system works. The Germans are going to have to rethink how they use their drones against us.”

“Yes,” the President said. “I can see that.”

“We’re going to stop them, sir,” Alan said. “They’re not going to get to Detroit. We’re gathering artillery, and the enemy is going to face hurricane bombardments from now on. The GD is still moving, but we have numbers and we’re whittling them down a little at a time.”

David Sims nodded. “This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods.”

“No, sir,” Alan said. “It’s far from that. But the great emergency has passed, at least I think so. We barely pulled it off, but we’re containing the GD in Southern Ontario. We’ve bought ourselves time.”

The President nodded.

Anna sat back. She felt relief flood outward from her heart, causing her fingers to tingle. Finally, something had gone right. The GD had created havoc, and they had destroyed a large part of the Canadian Army, but at least the US had finally contained them.

“The Behemoths,” someone said. “We’ll have to wait until we can bring two or three Behemoth regiments against them. Then we’ll clean the Germans out of Canada.”

Or the THOR missiles, Anna thought to herself. Soon it will be time to use them, as long as we can hold the Germans in place.

-9- Strategic Interlude II

From Tank Wars, by B.K. Laumer III:

The Lake Ontario Amphibious Assault

The Germen Dominion Expeditionary Force fought a brilliant North American campaign. Before we proceed further, it would be well to keep in mind one of the key operational decisions of the GD High Command.

In almost every encounter, the GD military had fewer personnel but greater machine numbers and quality, together with heavier firepower than their Canadian and American adversaries. The GD ability to sustain heavy machine losses was offset by its inability to sustain heavy human loss. It was their Achilles heel.

In actual numbers and at this time in the campaign, the GD already possessed fewer soldiers than the Americans and Canadians did in the theaters of action. In terms of fighting power, however, they still had a clear superiority.

In weighted combat power, the situation looked like this:

Along the Quebec-New England border region: GD Army Group C faced US Army Group New England 610,000 vs. 489,000.

Along the Kingston-Cornwall region between Lake Ontario and the start of the Saint Lawrence River: GD Army Group B faced US Army Group New York 315,000 vs. 295,000.

Along the Lake Superior Coast-London-Lake Erie Coast of Southwestern Ontario: GD Army Group A faced US Army Group Southwestern Ontario 686,000 vs. 811,000.

Uncommitted theater reserves: GD Twelfth Army of Army Group B faced the US XI Airmobile Corps along the New York and New Jersey coast: 412,000 vs. 24,000.

These weighted numbers show that despite their inferior equipment, the Americans and Canadians had stabilized the situation and brought the GD blitzkrieg to a halt. It was doubtful whether any American commanders realized the extent of GD reserves. But in any case, the stabilization had occurred without weakening the US Midwestern Defenses against the Pan-Asian Alliance and the South American Federation. At this time, Chairman Hong pushed for a 2040 Offensive, but the Ruling Committee voted to continue to remain on the defensive as they resupplied and reequipped their North American armies.

At a calculated risk, General Mansfeld had brought the situation on the various fronts to near equilibrium. This left him with two large uncommitted offensive forces, and it had stretched the Americans, with their only reserves being some resting battalions and a relatively small Atlantic coastal defense. The first GD offensive force was part of Zeller’s Army Group B. Since the beginning of the campaign, his numbers and equipment had been reduced by twenty-two percent through wastage and combat losses. Zeller’s uncommitted Twelfth Army possessed roughly 200,000 soldiers with a 400,000-strength equivalent as compared to American forces. These troops waited on the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario. Mansfeld’s second amphibious force waited in Cuba: the 400,000-strength equivalent of General Kaltenbrunner’s Army Group D. They readied themselves for the great assault against the New York-New Jersey shores that would snap the jaws shut of the great GD trap.

With masterful skill, General Mansfeld had brought the situation to the point where the two amphibious forces could wreak immense damage. They would also net the GD at least one million American prisoners and capture the New England and New York states for the German Dominion in North America. Combined with Ontario, it would give the GD a large area from which to base their attacks in the coming year.


From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040

2040, June 19-28. Siege of Toronto. The devastated forces of General Zelazny hung onto parts of the city far beyond what anyone would have imagined. The last battles took place in the sewers in vicious hand-to-hand conflicts. The Stuart Doctrine as broadcast by the Prime Minister fired up Canadian partisans. In Southern Ontario, bypassed Canadian and US Army personnel aided the growing resistance. The combined efforts slowed GD supplies. General Mansfeld began draconian reprisals, using Quebecer nationals in the internal security forces.

In Quebec south of the Saint Lawrence River, the siege armies of General Fromm continued their static occupation, facing nearly twice their number of American opponents, although force multipliers and drone systems gave them a greater machine and firepower advantage.


2040, June 28-July 7. Stiffening Resistance. With the death of General Zelazny, 29,000 Americans surrendered in Toronto. Afterward, GD Army Group A broke through and encircled Canadian and American defenders in Hamilton. Afterward, the GD withstood a US Militia offensive directed at the city coming from Buffalo. The rest of the newly-arrived US Fifth Army gathered in the Niagara Peninsula behind the Militia remnants.

At the start of the GD London Offensive, Holk’s tankers lacked the former dash of their earlier blitzkriegs. Still, they made solid initial gains. Unfortunately for the Germans, the stubborn defense in Toronto and the Militia offensive directed at Hamilton cost Holk several critical days delay. Those days allowed the first American reinforcements from Georgia and North Carolina to settle into position. Combined with the first experimental Heidegger jamming equipment, the US slowed the rate of Holk’s advance.

The increase of East Coast reinforcements streaming into Southern Ontario together with more Heidegger jammers and massed American artillery turned the GD advance into a crawl. The New England reinforcements heading for Buffalo and the US Fifth Army there, prompted Mansfeld to order the Fromm Offensive.

In the first several days, GD Army Group C out of Southern Quebec gained five to ten kilometers in upper State New York, Northern Vermont and New Hampshire. At the President’s orders, US Army Group New England halted all troop transfers southwestward and began to reorganize a defense in depth.

Through immense expenditure of munitions and the heaviest loss of Sigrid drones and AI Kaisers to date, Holk captured London and began the slow grind toward Detroit. East of Hamilton, the GD fended off every US Fifth Army attack. The cost in American lives proved horrendous, particularly among the Militia and predominantly among the new penal battalions.

The fighting in Southwestern Ontario grew increasingly savage as the weight of machines and firepower slowly swung toward an American-Canadian advantage. The GD failed to reach Lake Erie in any force. This initiated the critical Montreal Conference between Chancellor Kleist and General Mansfeld.


COMMENT: In retrospect, the GD drive on Detroit had three distinct phases. The first was the initial surprise against the Canadians on the Ontario-Quebec border. The GD military achieved masterful success during this stage. Each technological superiority came as a rude shock to the Canadians, and they needed time to adjust—time the GD didn’t give them. The second phase started with the arrival of American reinforcements from the US strategic reserve. The Expeditionary Force still achieved stunning victories during this period. Despite those victories, the sheer volume of US reinforcements combined with their tenacity finally slowed the blitzkrieg, which culminated in the siege of Toronto. Phase Three started with General Zelazny’s death. During this stage, the US gained a new addition: jammers applying the Heidegger Principle. The second addition was an even greater number of reinforcements from New England and especially from the Gulf and East Coast garrison troops. The jammers increasingly blunted the distinct GD machine advantage, although it did not altogether eliminate it. The massed US formations in a narrow region together with heavy concentrations of artillery finally ended any thought of GD advances in the final portion of Southwestern Ontario.

However, because Detroit had never been Mansfeld’s final objective, the American victory came at a heavy cost. They were weak at the wrong place—The Erie-Ontario Lowlands of New York State Interstate 90—and the GD now threatened to achieve its true campaign objective.

-10- Beachhead

MONTREAL, QUEBEC

Under the personal escort of the Chancellor’s bodyguards, General Walther Mansfeld rode an elevator down into an underground chamber. His stomach lurched from the speed, and he momentarily felt light on his feet. Five big men towered around him, although they had acted deferentially to him ever since helping him out of his armored limousine.

Mansfeld had rushed back to Montreal, expecting to meet the Chancellor, but without anyone confirming or denying it. Like many heads of state, Kleist feared assassination and took extraordinary precautions against it.

The Americans fought hard. They fought well and they had become cunning with their special jamming companies, moving from hot spot to hot spot. The enemy had finally forced caution into General Holk. The man must have phoned back to Europe. Holk had become fainthearted in his use of the drone battalions, and that as much as anything had slowed the offensive to the ridiculous crawl.

The elevator lurched to a halt, the doors opened and the biggest bodyguard gently pushed against Mansfeld’s back, propelling the general out of the elevator.

More big men in black suits waited. Mansfeld counted seven this time. Three already stood. Four of them played cards at a table.

“General Walther Mansfeld,” the chief bodyguard in the elevator said.

“You’re late,” a blond giant of a bodyguard told the other.

“Traffic.”

“You want me to write that down?” the blond giant asked.

“It’s the truth.”

“That’s not what I asked,” the blond giant said.

“Go ahead. Put it down.”

“Suit yourself.” The giant bodyguard turned to the card players, snapping his fingers.

One of the players set down his card hand, took out an electronic device and made a notation.

The guard who’d pushed Mansfeld stepped back into the elevator and pushed a button. The doors closed as the lift pinged, taking the first set of bodyguards away.

Without seeming to, General Mansfeld examined his new surroundings. He stood in a large, underground concrete corridor. Condensation caused water to form on the ceiling. A drop dripped, and there was a smell of fungus in the air. The place felt like a deep tunnel, and he didn’t like it here. He doubted anyone would.

The general didn’t see any signal, but now all the bodyguards set their cards on the table. Chairs scraped back and guns appeared.

No one said a word to him. No one apologized. Two of the smaller guards approached and gave him a thorough pat down, even to running a hand down his butt and feeling his groin. It was insulting, and Mansfeld would have liked to strike the man doing it. He knew better. There was a time and place for anger. This wasn’t it.

Finally, the blond giant waved the others away. They sat back down, picked up their cards and resumed their game. All in a day’s work, their actions said.

“Follow me, General,” the huge man said in a low rumble.

“Do you have a name?” Mansfeld asked.

Every bodyguard stopped what he was doing. They watched him, waiting expectantly. They felt like a feral pack of Rottweilers. Finally, they seemed to realize it had been an honest question. They stared at the blond giant.

“You want a name?” the huge man asked.

“If you can spare to tell me,” Mansfeld said.

The huge bodyguard showed his teeth in a grin. “I’m Mr. Death to you, General. Someday one of us is going to kill you. That is, unless you please the Chancellor in everything.”

“Ah,” Mansfeld said.

“Kleist wants love,” said one of the bodyguards at the table.

The hard eyes of Mr. Death tightened.

“I’m going to shut up,” the other man said.

Mr. Death grunted a rumbling, monosyllabic response. Then he motioned for Mansfeld to follow him.

The general hurried to keep up, taking two steps for every one of the other. He felt eyes behind him and half turned. It surprised him that two more bodyguards followed. He hadn’t heard them. These two should have been in the Expeditionary Force in the commandos. They wasted their talents down here. He doubted Kleist thought so. Powerful tyrants had kept the best soldiers around them from time immemorial.

Mansfeld could imagine the blond giant, Mr. Death, as one of Caesar’s bodyguards long ago. There had been a time in Roman history when only German barbarians had been allowed into the Praetorian Guard. In those distant times, the various Caesars had invariably feared their most successful generals. It had been far too easy in those times for a general to turn his legionaries on the government and become the next Caesar of Rome. Yet that wasn’t why Kleist had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to come to Montreal in secret. It wasn’t why he—Mansfeld—had left his command post to travel here for a face-to-face meeting.

The summer campaign had entered a critical phase, a troubling one. It had been inevitable, given the nature of war. Even Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan had troubles during a campaign, at least from time to time. This is what Mansfeld had feared many months ago: Kleist losing his nerve. He didn’t know the Chancellor had lost his nerve, but Mansfeld suspected that is what had happened.

Mr. Death opened large doors and ushered him into a much different sort of underground chamber. The wet smell of fungus vanished. Warmth hit Mansfeld in the face and something else as well: pure air. From the utilitarian concrete corridor, he entered a plush chamber. A massive conference table stood in the middle of a carpeted room. Vast chandeliers hung from the ceiling, illuminating the GD General Staff sitting in attendance. Field Marshal Wessel presided over the meeting, dominating the others by his white-haired presence.

So, Mansfeld thought. The Chancellor felt the need for backup, did he? How very interesting. He has lost his nerve after all—just as I predicted to myself he would.

A fire roared in the fireplace, and more security personnel stood near tall purple curtains blocking what should have been windows. There were no windows down here, of course. The curtains were pretense. Far above them, Mansfeld knew, rain poured upon Montreal. Yet if he swept back the curtains, all he would find would be more concrete or possibly wooden panels.

“Welcome, General Mansfeld,” Wessel said. “Won’t you sit down, please?”

It took a moment for Mansfeld to readjust to normality. The bodyguards wouldn’t grope him like perverts now. Instead, he had reentered the land of civilized behavior. It was like leaving a highly dangerously pressurized land where breathing was a chore and now finding he could draw air down to his lungs by the simple expedient of opening his mouth.

Mansfeld inclined his head toward Wessel, and he asked, “Was there a reason why I wasn’t allowed to bring an aide?”

“All in good time, sir,” Wessel said. “We’ve been waiting for you.” The old man indicated a chair at the end of the table. “Take a seat, please.”

This is just like Berlin all over again. Mansfeld shrugged. He had envisioned this taking place over a two-way screen, with Kleist faraway in Europe. If anything surprised him, it was Kleist’s presence in the New World. Along with assassination, the Chancellor dreaded traveling over large bodies of water like an ocean. While the man had many positive character traits, physical courage wasn’t among them.

Mr. Death drew back the specified chair for Mansfeld. As the general sat, the blond giant helped push the chair in.

“Are you hungry?” Wessel asked.

“Thank you, but no,” Mansfeld said. “A cup of coffee—”

Mr. Death snapped his fingers. One of the bodyguards by the purple curtains picked a pot of coffee off a silver tray. He strode near, poured into a cup and brought the cup and saucer to Mansfeld.

“Thank you,” the general said, accepting the drink.

The bodyguard never even looked at him, but backed away.

As Mansfeld set the cup and saucer on the table, large oaken doors opened. Chancellor Kleist strode in. The man might have gained a few pounds since Mansfeld had seen him last in Berlin. Kleist had certainly tanned since then.

“His Excellency, Chancellor Kleist,” a majordomo said, a tall fellow with silver hair and wearing special livery.

Mansfeld along with everyone else in the room stood to attention.

Kleist grinned as his gaze darted around the chamber. Mansfeld felt a shock as he looked into Kleist’s eyes. He sensed unease, maybe even a touch of worry in the Chancellor. This didn’t seem like the same confident man who had controlled the meeting in Berlin. What had changed him?

“Sit, please, gentlemen,” Kleist said. “We have much to discuss and time races away with us.”

Mansfeld sat down, frowning thoughtfully. With all its complexities, dangers and rewards, he had become engrossed in the summer campaign. What had happened in the outer world that could openly cause Kleist to worry?

They sat. The Chancellor sat, spoke pleasantries for a time and finally, he asked Field Marshal Wessel to outline the operational situation.

The white-haired chief of staff rose ponderously. An aide gave him a pointer and the man stepped to a large screen slid into position for him. Wessel gave a lucid rundown of the campaign, spending too much time perhaps on Southwestern Ontario as Holk’s army group bogged down on the approach to the American border and the old motor town of Detroit.

“You’re saying Americans outnumber us two to one here?” Kleist asked.

“Begging your pardon, Excellency,” Wessel said. “The Americans and Canadians outnumber us closer to three to one in Southwestern Ontario.”

“I see,” Kleist said, giving Mansfeld a pointed glance.

Wessel also directed his gaze at Mansfeld. For such an old, white-haired man, he had perfectly tailored eyebrows. “Perhaps you’ll say Holk has a greater weight of metal, of offensive machinery, there.”

“He did,” Mansfeld said, “but not anymore.”

Wessel nodded like an old bull. “Correct. The weight of metal and firepower now inexorably grows against us. The Americans have moved a greater number of artillery pieces into position here. I believe they are denuding the Chinese Front in order to mass against us.”

“I agree,” Mansfeld said.

Wessel hesitated, looking confused and glancing at the Chancellor.

“You agree?” Kleist asked Mansfeld.

“The facts speak for themselves, Your Excellency,” Mansfeld said.

Kleist made a notation on a yellow pad.

“There is another problem, Excellency,” Wessel said. “Whereas before our generals relied upon drone vehicles to offset the enemy’s numerical advantages, now the Americans have mastered…uh…”

“The Heidegger Principle,” a colonel sitting at the table said.

“The Heidegger Principle,” Wessel said. “This allows the Americans to successfully jam our control signals and frequencies, rending our drones useless.”

“Allow me, please, to amend your last statement,” Mansfeld said. “While it is true the Americans have discovered our secret, it has not rendered the drones inoperative. We have had to adjust, certainly, and reconfigure our tactical mix, going back to the combined arms approach.”

“Why have we not practiced combined arms the entire time?” Kleist asked.

“The previous lack of Allied jamming allowed us a great advantage,” Mansfeld said. “Entire drone battalions, entire drone divisions, have given us a tremendous operational tool. Repeatedly, we could mount otherwise suicidal assaults, fixing the enemy in place, outmaneuvering him and then annihilating his formations. Granted, the loss of this advantage has hurt our efficiency. But we knew it could never last. No technological advantage in war ever does. I would like to point out that the Americans still lack overall jamming capability, and we have begun to target their special Heidegger jamming companies.”

“You’ve made your point,” Kleist said. “I would like to return to the first observation. The Americans have massed against us in Southwestern Ontario. Their weight of metal and machines now overpowers us there.”

“Excuse me, Your Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “Overpower is too strong a word. They have an advantage over us in antiquated equipment. That merely means—”

Kleist waved him to silence. “I admit that I am not the strategic wizard such as many proclaim you to be. Yet correct me if I’m wrong: but we cannot continue the assault there. In fact, we are in danger of losing ground.”

“Any ground we lose—”

“I am not finished speaking,” Kleist said.

Mansfeld dipped his chin.

“Field Marshal,” Kleist said, “show me how much coastline we’ve secured along Lake Erie.”

“The US Fifth Army anchors the northern stretch of Lake Erie, Excellency,” Wessel said. “The portion of Lake Erie coast we secured to the north of London has now come under considerable attack.”

“We cannot launch an amphibious assault across Lake Erie at this time,” Kleist said. “Is that correct?”

“Not in sufficient strength, Excellency,” Wessel said.

Kleist turned to Mansfeld. “We cannot land in Northern Pennsylvania from Lake Ontario. We cannot land south of Buffalo and cut off the American forces there. Isn’t that correct, General?”

Mansfeld remained silent.

The Chancellor folded his hands, resting them on the table. “I am reminded of a historical parallel. In the First World War, the German armies swept the Allied forces ahead of them. Kaiser Germany made impressive military gains in those opening weeks. Yet the armies were supposed to swing behind Paris in their scythe through Northern France. Instead, the armies did not swing wide enough, but swept before Paris instead of behind it, leaving the capital intact and thereby saving France. That single mistake led to four years of horrendous warfare and the downfall of Imperial Germany. I fear that here in America our great blow will not strike deeply or far enough. I fear that you will fail to garner sufficient victory for this vast outlay of GD expenditure and blood.”

“We have Lake Ontario,” Mansfeld said quietly.

“Back in Berlin you said we would have Lake Ontario and Lake Erie by this stage in the campaign. Your plan called for a sweep through New York and through Northern Pennsylvania. We need to stretch the American defense so they are not strong enough where our main blows fall. Your blow might possibly fall short as you make the great attempt to encircle several American Army Groups, as you attempt to capture an entire front.”

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said. “I will give you as a gift one million American captives by the end of summer.”

“You boast,” Kleist said. “You tell me what you will do when you cannot even accomplish your prerequisites for victory given me in Berlin. The Americans have outfought you in Southwestern Ontario. Now they have begun to go on the offensive there. Just like Hitler in Russia, you lack sufficient manpower to complete the task at the critical juncture.”

Mansfeld’s eyes narrowed and he felt heat in his chest. “You have misjudged the situation, Excellency.”

Kleist’s eyes seemed to glimmer. “Have I?” he asked, softly.

“I have sufficient reserves that if I so desired I could smash through the Americans in Southwestern Ontario,” Mansfeld said. “I could also secure the Lake Erie coastline. Instead, I save my strength for the critical blow. Yes, it is true the Americans are stronger in Southwestern Ontario than I expected. Yet for them to achieve this they have stuffed their precious reserves in the wrong place. That means they will not have sufficient numbers or firepower to stop the amphibious assaults from the east and west. That is where I will use my reserves to the greatest advantage.”

Kleist gazed at Mansfeld. Finally, he said, “I have bad news for you, General. I have bad news for the German Dominion. Two days ago, I learned that Chairman Hong went before the Ruling Committee. He tried to convince them to order the North American PAA into a limited assault. I happen to know that Hong would have preferred a general offensive in the Midwest, but he knew the Ruling Committee would never agree to that. Yet if he could persuade them to launch several limited offensives and provide extended artillery bombardments, it would have frightened the Americans. Hong requested the demonstration of force and the Ruling Committee voted him down. The Chinese and Brazilians are going to wait this year as they rebuild their armies.”

“That is unfortunate news,” Mansfeld said, “but not altogether unexpected.”

Kleist barked a sharp laugh. “Unfortunate, our strategic wizard says to us. That is an understatement, General. It means once the Americans learn of this, they can ship vast reinforcements against us and crush our Expeditionary Force. They will hurl our amphibious landings off the various shores.”

Mansfeld glanced at the assembled officers, at the Field Marshal standing with his pointer. Slowly, he began to shake his head.

“Oh, the strategic wizard disagrees, does he?” Kleist asked. “You believe we have unlimited numbers, I suppose? But the Americans have already begun to outnumber us in Southwestern Ontario. They have denied us the Lake Erie coasts we needed. We are so strong and powerful that we cannot even complete the prerequisites for victory.”

“Excellency,” Mansfeld said. He tried to ignore the heat in his chest. It burned hottest in his heart, and he wondered for a second if that was a signal for a heart attack. No, no, he could not afford that now. He must speak with utter calm. He must soothe their fears and let them see how he viewed the situation. All great conquerors had moments of doubt. Nothing was certain in war. But it was always good to remember that the enemy had his own sets of worries. The trick was to steel your nerves and act boldly at the correct moment.

“Speak,” Kleist said, waving a hand. “Spin your webs of fancy and tell us how everything will come out well.”

Mansfeld forced himself to speak slowly and to keep every inflection off his features. “Excellency, the Americans and Canadians have always outnumbered our Expeditionary Force. We have predicated the assault on our superior training, weapons and tactics. From the beginning, we struck first and pulverized one set of enemies before the next could come up and support them. We smashed the Canadians, hurled back the rest and hit the approaching American Strategic Reserve. They have repeatedly attacked us piecemeal and we have devoured their forces one by one. Finally, the enemy stripped reserves from critical coastal defenses. With those numbers, they have brought greater firepower to bear against us in Southwestern Ontario. But that is exactly the wrong place, Excellency. They must believe I desire Detroit. I do not, and I never have.

“Now we must move with speed, using our advantages while they squander their momentary gains. We will land in mass at Rochester. One third of the amphibious force will rush to Buffalo. There, they will encircle the US Fifth Army in the Niagara Peninsula, cutting them off from their supply base. The other two thirds will head east along the lowland route. Shortly thereafter, Kaltenbrunner will land on the Jersey shores and capture New York City. He will head northwest, heading up the Hudson River for Albany. The two amphibious forces will met, trapping US Army Group New York and US Army Group New England. Together with the US Fifth Army that will combine to over one million American soldiers in our net. It will be a monumental victory, Excellency, and it will be the beginning of our continental conquest. ”

“You speak glibly,” Kleist said. “Why not also speak Southwestern Ontario into the bag as well while you are at it?”

Mansfeld allowed himself a brief smile. “I have deliberately kept myself from giving General Holk the reserves he needed to reach Detroit. Those reserves will land in New York State. From there they will race unopposed to Buffalo and to Albany. The Americans should have kept more divisions back. Instead, they have put them in Southwestern Ontario where they will do them no good. I wish you could see that as I do, sir.”

Kleist glanced at his yellow pad on the table. He drummed his fingers, soon asking, “Once you land in New York, why won’t the Americans simply redeploy their excess numbers?”

Mansfeld shook his head. “Holk will attack in Southwestern Ontario. He will keep the pressure on them and cause them to fear for Detroit. Under those conditions, Excellency, it will take the Americans time to decide on the correct move. By that time, my speeding armies will have reached their destinations. It is inevitable.”

Kleist glanced at Wessel.

As he stood by the screen, the old Field Marshal cleared his throat.

“Do you believe General Mansfeld’s plan is feasible?” Kleist asked.

“On the surface it has some interesting possibilities,” Wessel said. “But I would need to hear the plan in detail before I pronounced judgment on it.”

Once more, Chancellor Kleist drummed his fingers on the table. Soon, he spread his fingers on the wood. “Get up, General. Take the pointer. Tell us the specifics of your plan.”

Mansfeld shot to his feet and strode to the computer screen. He accepted the pointer from Wessel. Ponderously, the Field Marshal went to his chair and sat down.

He had them, Mansfeld knew. Kleist worried about the coming assault. No doubt, the Field Marshal had his doubts. Before a great assault, fear and doubts always stirred and rose up. He would show them that he had the situation under control. The German Dominion had already achieved greatness this summer. Soon now, they—and he—would enter into the military halls of the gloriously victorious against amazing odds.

“First,” Mansfeld said, tapping Rochester, New York, “you should realize…” He proceeded to outline his plan and show them that he had everything under control.


From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040

2040, July 7-10. Beachhead. General Mansfeld carefully readied the assets needed for the daring Lake Ontario amphibious invasion. He lacked the shipping to move the entire GD Twelfth Army at once, and would need to control the lake for extended voyages and for supplies. Despite a large number of hovers, the majority of the men, machines and materiel would cross on impounded Canadian and American freighters, ore haulers, tugs and recreational craft. Some historians believe Mansfeld now operated on the old SAS maxim: Who dares, wins.

Despite hard weeks and months of war and constant attrition, a large number of Beowulf short-range ballistic missiles heralded the assault, striking targets along the American Lake Ontario shore and farther inland. In the predawn hours, the bulk of the GD XIV and XV air corps lofted, flying constant sorties and providing CAP protection for the ad hoc fleet. GD stealth craft and UAVs challenged several critical US strategic lasers. The UAVs took substantial losses while the stealth craft inflicted surprising damage to the sites.

Several hours after the barrage and led by daring Galahad hovers, the lead elements of GD Twelfth Army headed for the Ontario Beach Park shore of Rochester.

LAKE ONTARIO

Captain Penner of the Canadian Air Force flew low over the lake’s water. At this height, his plane had a horrible tendency to dip. It forced him to concentrate harder than normal. He didn’t want to plow into the water.

GD ballistic missiles had cratered the runway in Buffalo. Others had destroyed several F-22s and a squadron of V-10s.

The captain flew an F-35A2, with advanced Harpoon missiles attached. Lieutenant Aachen was his wingman. They stayed low—a mere thirty feet above the choppy waves—and kept their radar off. Far to the rear flew American AWACS. This was suicidal being out here tonight. The sky was full of Germans, and the enemy hunted for aircraft like his.

An air controller gave Penner the word: finally, he was going to strike back. Penner popped up to one hundred and thirty feet before he flipped a switch. A moment later, a Harpoon Block II cruise missile deployed. It was an upgraded AGM-84. Since this was an air launch, the Harpoon lacked a solid-fuel booster. After leaving the Lightning II, the turbojet engine turned on, and the 12.6-foot missile with its three-foot wingspan shot across the waves. The Harpoon was a sea-skimming missile with active radar. It sped for the Canadian ore hauler forty miles away. The ship carried Sigrid drones and a few GD crewmen.

“I’m ready to launch another,” Penner told the control officer.

“Negative,” the air controller said. “We’re waiting to see if your Harpoon’s guidance system can crack GD ECM.”

“Roger,” Penner said. If the Harpoon failed to pierce enemy ECM, they would have to abort the mission or move closer into the heavily defended sea corridor.

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

Lieutenant Teddy Smith sat at the controls of his new Galahad hover. His radar and towed sonar array searched the predawn darkness for possible American targets of opportunity but more critically, he searched for American missiles heading toward his charges. Sergeant Holloway waited at weapons controls, his face as bleak as ever.

The sun would be up soon, and they weren’t even halfway across the lake yet. He still couldn’t believe his bad luck at getting shepherd duty for these wallowing tubs. The mismatch of Canadian ships carried a battalion of Sigrid drones along with a battalion of infantry. Their little flotilla was going to have to make several runs today, and C Troop would have to escort them to each shore.

Instead of a regular shell in the cannon’s chamber, they had an antiair round.

“Still all clear,” Smith said.

Holloway didn’t answer. He never did during combat unless it was absolutely necessary.

Well, at least he had a Galahad again. Smith had taken a lot of ribbing about losing a hover to a Great Lake’s sub. That was like losing it to the Loss Ness Monster.

I’d sure like to meet that sub again, Smith thought. It would go differently this time, I tell you the truth.

Smith twisted his neck and heard something pop. At the same time, his air screen pinged an alert.

Behind him, Holloway sat up.

Smith stared at his air screen. “Do you see that?”

“Cruise missile,” Holloway said in his clipped way. “It must be a Harpoon. It’s heading straight for the ore hauler.”

Lieutenant Smith of C Troop shouted into the comm-unit and alerted the rest of the Galahads. Where was the air cover? The Americans shouldn’t have been able to get a Harpoon-launching platform this close to the transports. And they certainly shouldn’t have been able to do this so soon in the lake crossing. Was the mysterious sub out there, sniping at the fleet?

“Put up a curtain of steel!” Smith shouted. The cruise missile flashed toward the flotilla at 537 miles per hour.

Holloway moved methodically and with deceptive calm. He directed the targeting computer and put the hover’s machine gun on interlocking fire with the other Galahads. Then he fired the first antiair round from the cannon.

The other Galahads did likewise.

This was an advanced Harpoon and not one of the ancient ones. The thing jinked and popped off a flare, and then a second one. The flares generated intense heat. The hovers’ antiair rounds fixed on those hot signals and headed for them instead of the Harpoon.

“It’s moving straight for the ore hauler,” the Troop’s commander said. “Fugal, it’s in your sector.”

“Destroy it,” Smith said under his breath.

Their Galahad shook as the 76mm gun fired another antiair shell.

The enemy cruise missile was good. Worse, it seemed to have locked on target. At the last minute, Smith saw that he was wrong. The Harpoon readjusted, no doubt making the course change because of something its internal guidance system saw. The missile veered away from the ore hauler that sat low in the water. Instead, the Harpoon smashed against a Galahad of C Troop.

Each of the hovers had been fitted with an emergency emitter, to give off decoy signals. Command said it would help to save the more important troop transports. Command also believed it would make the hover crews more intent on destroying the incoming missiles if the hovers themselves became the targets.

This time the target was Lieutenant Fugal’s hover. The cruise missile’s 488-pound warhead exploded, killing the pilot and his gunner. It also destroyed the Galahad in a flash of light and burst metal and plastics, the pieces raining onto the lake, plopping into it like hail. The sacrifice had saved an ore hauler and half a battalion of Sigrid drones.

LAKE ONTARIO

“Well?” Captain Penner asked in his F-35, now forty-two miles away from the action. “Did we get lucky?”

“Negative,” the air control officer said. “Incoming data suggests we splashed a decoy instead of the target.”

“Damnit,” Penner said. He hated the German Dominion. He’d lost his brother and an uncle to them earlier this year. They had both been officers in the Canadian Air Force. His family lived in Manitoba, and he knew they would be next if the Germans captured a large chunk of northeastern America.

“Let me go in and get them,” Penner said. “I’ll skim right up their back end and put the Harpoons where the sun doesn’t shine.”

The air controller took his time answering. “We’re still assessing the situation.”

“Yes, sir,” Penner said. He was angry and he wanted these Krauts. He was tired of them getting all the breaks all the time.

USS KIOWA

Captain Darius Green squinted tightly at his screen. The tiny carbon fiber submersible surged at top speed. He could hear the hiss of water outside the thin skin. The Kiowa was a hundred meters below the surface as Darius cataloged the number and type of enemy surface craft moving above.

Given the speed of most of the enemy vehicles, they must be the two-man Galahads. He’d also seen a few fast attack boats. Those were the most dangerous to him. And he’d seen a flotilla of big hovercraft carriers. Tonight, Lake Ontario swarmed with enemy vessels.

Near the radio slumped the first mate, Sulu Khan.

“We should slip away,” Sulu said for the fifth time in as many minutes. “What good are we doing out here?”

Darius ignored the first mate. He was cataloging the enemy, getting their precise direction of travel. Yet Sulu had a point. What did any of this matter? In a few hours, the enemy vessels would have offloaded onto the New York coast and likely be heading back for more men and materiel. This had to be an amphibious invasion. Already, five convoys of GD vessels had passed overhead, streaking toward the New York coast.

“We have four Javelins,” Darius rumbled.

Sulu looked up in alarm. “You’re thinking about attacking, are you? That’s crazy talk.”

“We’re a US Navy vessel,” Darius pointed out.

Sulu snorted. “We’re one lone submersible, sir. Whatever we do won’t have any impact on the outcome of the war.”

“What if every sailor thought like that?” Darius asked.

“There would be a lot fewer wars,” Sulu muttered.

It was the wrong answer for Darius Green. In silence, the big man studied the screen. The longer he looked the quieter and more intense he became.

“We should slip away,” Sulu said.

Darius looked up at Sulu Khan. “I am not a coward. I am a warrior.”

Maybe Sulu sensed the difference in the captain. The small man became wary. “Yes, you’re a warrior. You destroyed hovers before. But if we surface, we’re dead.”

“I do not fear death,” Darius said.

“But are you looking for it?”

Darius scowled, and he looked down at the screen. The last of the sixth convoy passed overhead. He moved a big hand and slapped a control.

“What are you doing?” Sulu cried.

“I want to see the stars one more time,” Darius said.

“Then let’s slip away and surface elsewhere, sir.”

“Now,” Darius said. “We see them now.”

“Captain!” Sulu pleaded, and the small man stood as if he was going to do something drastic.

Darius ignored him, and after a moment, Sulu Khan sat back down, glummer than before.

The carbon fiber vessel eased up from the depths, surfacing. Darius used the outer cameras, scanning—

“Look,” he said.

With a leaden step, Sulu moved over to the screen. He must have seen what his captain did: a convoy of Lake Ontario freighters. Maybe they were captured Canadian ships. An escort of Galahads shepherded them across the water. It was like tying down greyhounds to a herd of water buffalos.

“We can’t fight all of them,” Sulu said.

“Not with Javelins perhaps,” Darius said. He moved to the radio.

“The Germans have fantastic detection gear, sir,” Sulu said. “There must be plenty of GD AWACS up this morning.”

Once more, Darius ignored his first mate. In several minutes, the captain of the Kiowa spoke to an officer in US air control. He was soon put through elsewhere, to a major who had spoken a few minutes ago to Captain Penner of the Canadian Air Force.

“Can you give me precise coordinates?” the air control officer asked Darius.

“Yes, sir,” Darius said.

Sulu shook his head in obvious dismay.

“The GD ECM gear is too good for our Harpoon missiles,” the air control officer said. “If you had a laser designator, we could have the Harpoon home in on it and the enemy ECM wouldn’t matter.”

A knot of righteousness hardened in Darius Green. He served Allah. He was a warrior and these Germans invaded his homeland. In fact, he had two such designators in the sub. Both of them were leftover devices from ferried SEAL teams.

“I happen to have such a device,” Darius said.

“You’re in a sub, is that right?” the air controller asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“It will take…several minutes for the missiles to reach where you’re at,” the air controller said.

“It will take me two minutes to paint the target,” Darius said.

Sulu Khan groaned.

“Yes!” the air controller said. “We have to do something. We can’t let them land unopposed.”

Darius had been thinking likewise.

“Captain,” Sulu pleaded. “We can’t stay up here on the surface this near a convoy.”

“You’re correct,” Darius said. He stuck out his big right hand. It had large, scarred knuckles—those had come from his youthful days of brawling. “It has been a pleasure serving with you, First Mate Khan. Let us meet again in Paradise.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Sulu said.

Darius kept his face impassive as he continued to hold out his hand.

Glumly, Sulu shook it, the big black fingers engulfing his smaller palm.

Then the big man from Chicago moved fast. He grabbed a laser designator and headed for the hatch.

LAKE ONTARIO

Captain Penner of the Canadian Air Force whooped with delight. “Did you hear that?”

“I did,” the wingman said.

“Reroute your Harpoon guidance system,” the air controller said.

Penner’s right-hand fingers moved fast on a touch pad control. “There. It’s done,” he said.

“Are you in launch position?” the air controller asked.

“We both are,” Penner said.

“This could be a small window of opportunity,” the air controller said. “Launch them all. Then return to base.”

As Captain Penner leveled the F-35, he and his wingman launched the remaining cruise missiles. One after another, the Harpoons kick in their turbojets, showing orange contrails. The sleek missiles zoomed for the enemy over forty-three miles away.

“That’s it,” Penner said a minute later.

Then the two F-35 Lightning IIs banked and headed back for Buffalo, New York. Their first sortie tonight was over.

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

“Fire!” Lieutenant Smith shouted.

Sergeant Holloway and the other gunners put up a sheet of lead from their 12.7mm machine guns. At the same time, the 76mm cannons launched a flock of antiair shells. Tracers burned red-hot, moving like wasps at the low-flying Harpoons streaking toward the ore haulers and freighters.

Everything happened fast. Harpoons launched flares. Antiair shells zoomed at the hot objects, and they ignited against some. One antiair shell struck an actual Harpoon, taking it out.

“Smith and Sheds,” the Troop’s leader ordered. “They’re heading through your sectors. Turn on your emitters.”

Lieutenant Smith hesitated for a fraction of a second. Then he turned on the decoy emitter. It put out a false signal, making his Galahad look like an ore hauler.

“Good luck, Sergeant,” Smith managed to say.

Holloway merely grunted.

Smith shook his head. He hadn’t figured it would end like this. He was going out as a duck decoy. What bloody bad luck was that?

The Harpoons kept boring in. One veered away from an infantry freighter. It lit up Shed’s Galahad in a great fireball, casting huge shadows on the lake. It destroyed the hover but saved hundreds of lives in the freighter.

“It’s our turn now,” Smith said.

Two more Harpoons came on fast. The antiair shells missed. The bullets failed to hit and the emitter—

Smith watched open-mouthed as both cruise missiles flashed past his Galahad.

“Is the emitter on?” Holloway asked.

“Look at your screen,” Smith said.

“What went wrong?” Holloway asked.

Before Smith could answer, the first Harpoon struck an ore hauler. The warhead exploded. The second cruise missile plowed into the wounded hauler a moment later, but the warhead failed to ignite. The kinetic speed still crumpled metal, and might have been the tipping point for the hauler. The long vessel split in two and both ends began to sink. At the same time, Sigrids slid into Lake Ontario and submerged as huge bubbles rose up. The drones headed for the muddy bottom.

“Lieutenant Smith!” the troop commander shouted over the radio. “Did you turn on your emitter?”

“Yes, sir, I did,” Smith said.

“Are you lying to me, Ted?” the commander asked.

“Look at your screen, sir. You’ll see that our emitter is still on. Sergeant Holloway can confirm that.”

“Then what—”

“Sir,” Lieutenant Fleck said. “I’m picking up a laser signal.”

“What does that have to do with—?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt again, sir,” Fleck said. “But the laser’s origin point is near the water four thousand meters away.”

“The sub!” Smith shouted. “The submarine is back.”

“What’s that, Lieutenant?” the commander asked. “What are you babbling about?”

“The American sub, sir,” Smith said. “It must be out there and it’s guiding those missiles into the ships.”

“We must find it,” the commander said. “We must find it before more Harpoons hit my convoy.”

USS KIOWA

Darius Green smiled so hard that his mouth hurt. This was glorious. He had helped destroy a GD troop transport.

I have four Javelins. Maybe I can destroy even more.

Could he work in close enough to—?

“Captain,” Sulu said in his earpiece. “The Galahads have spotted us. They’re coming our way.”

“How many,” Darius said into his microphone.

“Sir,” Sulu said. “You do realize that the Germans own the skies. Our planes have left. They were smart enough to plan to live again to fight again another day. Shouldn’t we do the same thing, sir?”

“Now is the moment to strike the enemy and keep striking,” Darius said.

“Begging your pardon, sir, but Allah has allowed you to act the part of a warrior. You are a warrior. I think doing more now would be pushing it and might even be an insult to Allah.”

Darius doubted that. The Galahads were fast, though. And likely there were nearby GD aircraft around. He couldn’t fight those. Maybe if he submerged and slunk around, he could do the same thing again later. What a feeling to destroy a large enemy ship. This was why he had joined the Navy: to fight like a warrior.

“Sir, those hovers are coming fast,” Sulu said.

Darius Green ducked in, shut the hatch and slid down the ladder. He hit the bottom landing hard and his feet slid out from under him. He banged his forehead just above his right eye. Ignoring the pain, he shouted for Sulu to take them underwater.

At emergency speeds, Sulu did exactly that.

GDN GALAHAD 3/C/1

Lieutenant Smith and Holloway remained in the area for twenty-five more minutes, hunting for the mysterious American submarine. They had several depth charges, and they used every one of them. Finally, a different hover approached to take over the hunt.

Smith licked his lips. He was glad Fleck had spotted the laser designator. Otherwise, the commander might still believe that he had been derelict in his duty. He’d turned on the emitter, but he had to admit, he was glad it had failed to attract the Harpoons. He was overjoyed to be alive.

Teddy Smith turned the hover around and kicked the Galahad into high gear, zooming across the waves, speeding to catch up with the convoy. The tip of the sun broke over the horizon, casting long orange beams across the water. It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful sunrise he’d ever seen.

Smith grinned wildly, and he laughed. Right now, he didn’t care if Holloway thought he was strange or not. Lieutenant Teddy Smith out of London laughed with gusto. It was good to be alive. It was glorious to zip across the waters in this fast machine.

After the laughter died away—Holloway had remained silent the entire time—Smith nodded to himself. It was daylight now. It would be harder for the submarine to do that again. Twice the American submarine had bested him. He wanted another crack at it. He wanted to sink the damned thing.

Yes, one way or another, he was going to get the better of the Lake Ontario Loch Ness Monster.

ROCHESTER, NEW YORK

Paul Kavanagh squinted tightly as he scanned Lake Ontario with his binoculars. Dawn broke over the horizon. He’d been awake for three hours already, ever since the first enemy missiles had struck the city.

Behind him parts of Rochester burned. The worst hit had been at the airport, an artillery park and several dummy mobile shore batteries. The real shore batteries were big trucks with Harpoon cruise missiles.

He’d already been on the horn with the local SOCOM colonel. Romo and he were out here with a Marine company. The Marines had Javelins, some older TOWs and with a DIVAD system to take down the next low-level air strike. An Army battalion in the middle of the city was already supposed to be out here with them, but the soldiers were taking their sweet time to get into position.

“It’s too late for Rochester,” Romo said. He also lay on his belly, scanning the lake. “Look at grid 2-A-22.”

Paul swept his binoculars to the left. Oh yeah, he saw them now. Galahad hovercraft and bigger, infantry-carrying hovers headed toward shore. They moved fast and acted like a fleet. The difference would be that this fleet could keep right on coming, up the shore and into the city.

“We have to stop them,” Paul said.

“Of course,” Romo said. “What else would we do?”

They both wore body armor, and today they had some of their old gear on: helmets with HUD visors. Both of theirs were flipped up at the moment.

Paul figured there was one thing on their side today. This wasn’t a blue water Navy amphibious assault. This was something different because these were the Great Lakes, or one of them at least. Instead of destroyers, the GD had Galahads. Instead of light cruisers, the enemy had big hovers. There were no battleships and certainly no aircraft carriers out there. Unfortunately, the enemy didn’t need the carriers today, because the far shore held plenty of GD runways. That meant the enemy had plenty of aircraft. Some of Rochester burned because of enemy air strikes. The battleships, on the other hand—

“Down!” Paul shouted.

Other Marines took up the cry.

There were falling streaks in the sky: more SRBMs—short-range ballistic missiles—coming down fast at Rochester.

For the next few minutes, Paul endured tremendous explosions. His bones shook and his teeth rattled, until he remembered to close his mouth tightly.

They were stationed almost at the edge of the shore, behind buildings that fronted Ontario Beach Park. Some of the buildings vaporized under the missile barrage. Razor-sharp shards of wood and molten metal flew through the air and slaughtered half the Marine company. It left the others shocked and dazed, not knowing what to do.

Stirring, forcing himself to think, to act now while he had the chance, Paul raised his head. His brain throbbed. His body hurt. So did his right hand from clutching the binoculars so hard. He put the lenses to his eyes.

The GD Galahads and carrier hovers were a lot closer than before. Enemy air swept over the water, flashed over the hovercraft and raced toward shore.

“Wonder if we have any antiair missiles left?” Romo said.

“Not against planes moving that low over the water,” Paul said.

About two hundred yards to the right, an old DIVAD air defense cannon opened up. Out there over the water, in a hail of bullets, a Razorback ground-attack UAV disintegrated.

A few of the Marines cheered.

“They have no idea of what’s about to happen, do they?” Romo asked.

With fiery contrails and lines of smoke, air-to-ground missiles launched from the rest of the ground-attack planes and UAVs. The DIVAD system kept spewing lead into the air. Then the missiles arrived, big explosion and there no more DIVADs to fire back.

Half a minute later, the ground-attackers arrived. Ancient Stingers took down two. A Marine .50 caliber ended the career of another and then the GD air shot up men and materiel.

The big surprise came with three US AH-4 Cherokees. The armored helos had afterburner-equipped tri-jets and a large load of rockets, autocannons and defensive beehive flechettes. Those swerved, jigged up and down and hosed munitions at the GD ground-attack planes.

One, two, three GD planes exploded. It was awesome. It was about time that America showed these invaders a thing or three.

Paul knew there were few US personnel around Rochester, anywhere along the south Lake Ontario shore. If the GD could get a toehold here…it might be more than serious. It might start looking like it had last winter when the Chinese rampaged up the gut between the Rockies and the Mississippi River.

Unfortunately, the Cherokees must have been low on ordnance. After destroying the planes, the helos went away, likely to go back to base to rearm.

It was up to the men on the ground now. Paul crawled for the nearest Marine position. Romo crawled after him. More of Rochester burned around and behind them. More explosions told of GD shells and warheads slamming onto shore.

“They badly outnumber us!” Romo shouted.

Paul paused and ducked low as a concussion swept overhead. Wood chips rained and paper blew. When the blast passed, Paul looked back at Romo and asked, “What else is new?”

“Nothing,” Romo said.

Finally, Paul found dead Marines. There was blood, hunks of human meat…he tried not to look too closely at any of it. He found a Javelin missile launcher, the thing he’d been hunting for. Then he found a good spot behind a blasted-out window from what must have once been a restaurant.

Romo wrestled a heavy machine gun into position. Then they waited for the enemy to near shore.

They heard the high-pitched whine of the Galahads long before the enemy vehicles reached shore. Out there in the farther distance, Paul saw hover transports waiting. They would likely only come in once the others cleared the beach. How many hover carriers did the Expeditionary Force have in North America? Not enough would be the likely answer. Paul wished he could blow up some of those.

“Shoot and scoot?” Romo asked.

Before Paul could answer, American artillery opened up from somewhere in the middle of Rochester. The seconds passed. Then geysers leapt up beside the approaching Galahads. Rockets zoomed from the bigger, following machines, heading inland. Paul watched one flash overhead. It landed somewhere in Rochester and exploded.

Before the hovers reached the beach, the US artillery had fallen silent.

“Might have been a good idea to wait for the hover transports to get here before they opened up,” Paul said.

“Is that what we’re going to do?” Romo asked. The assassin stared at him with a grimy face. The stupid feather dangling from his ear was clean, if you could believe it. He’d never seen Romo clean the feather, but he must do it some time for it to look like that.

Paul didn’t say anything regarding his blood brother’s question. He had his orders from SOCOM. They were to observe, get an idea of what was going on, and get the heck back to report and to survive. From the few words Paul had received, High Command figured this was going to be a running battle for some time, and they needed commandos who knew how to play the game.

Readying the Javelin, Paul waited. He judged the distance to the nearest Galahads. Four thousand meters, three thousand five hundred meters, three thousand meters, two thousand five hundred meters—

He pulled the trigger. The missile popped out, and it flashed at the enemy. Romo hadn’t needed to use the heavy machine gun yet, so he watched the interplay.

“Let’s go,” Paul said.

Romo seemed as if he might take a few shots first with the .50 caliber. Then he shrugged and let go of the machine gun, abandoning it. They started crawling away across the floor, heading for the back door. A second before the Javelin took out a Galahad, Paul and Romo climbed to their feet and ran. They barely made it in time. Another set of Razorbacks had arrived, and they hosed the beachfront area with chain-gun fire. It was mayhem, and the few Marines shooting back soon stopped doing so. Some had folded up shop and retreated. The others died at their posts.

“This isn’t good,” Romo said, as they sprinted past a burning scuba rental shop.

“No,” Paul said. “It isn’t.”

They saved their words after that, using their breath for running deeper into the doomed city.

-11- Breakout

From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040

2040, July 7-10. Beachhead. A scratch US battalion and Marine company in Rochester, with strong concentrations of SOCOM commandos, sniped at the amphibious landers. This was also the first GD amphibious assault in its history and something of a muddle. Together, the two situations sowed confusion on the beach and delayed an immediate capture of the city.

GD General Zeller landed in New York State with the second wave across Lake Ontario. His first action was to act as a traffic control officer, speeding the capture of Rochester.

WASHINGTON, DC

Loud knocking woke Anna out of a deep sleep. She lifted her head and saw the first dawning of light beside the edges of the curtain. What time was it? Beside her, David stirred uneasily as if he’d had a bad dream.

To Anna’s shock, the bedroom door opened. An abashed secret service agent poked his head in.

“I beg your pardon, madam,” he said, “but it’s something of an emergency. Do you think you could wake the President?”

Anna glanced at David. While half-asleep, he dragged a pillow over his head, jamming it down to keep out the waking world. She turned back to the agent.

“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is here,” the agent said, “together with the Director of Homeland Security. There’s been an invasion.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Anna asked. The GD Expeditionary Force had invaded Canada, but that had happened weeks ago. The agent looked sober, not as if he’d been hallucinating. So what was he talking about?

“The Germans have crossed Lake Ontario,” the agent said, as if reading her thoughts. “They’ve entered the United States.”

She blinked at him with incomprehension, still not understanding.

“They’re in New York State,” he said. “They’re unloading at Rochester even as we speak.”

Rochester? But that was in New York, not in Ontario. Her eyes widened. It finally registered what he was saying. The GD had used Lake Ontario to surprise them. It sounded as if they’d invaded en masse, not just raided. This was terrible.

“Give me a minute,” she said. “The President will be up soon.”

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, General Alan finished explaining the situation. He used a large map spread over the coffee table in the living room. Tracing with his finger, he’d showed where the Germans had landed and their likely destinations the next day, the next three days and the next week.

The President wore a blue bathrobe as he sipped coffee. The robe had a Presidential seal on the right breast. His hair was still messy from sleep. Director Harold sat on the sofa with him. He had been quiet throughout the general’s talk, leaving his coffee untouched.

Anna reentered the room and set a plate of sandwiches on the table beside the pot of coffee. Quietly, she sat down and covertly studied David.

He stared too much, as if his thoughts drifted. The burdens kept piling onto his shoulders, didn’t they? The generals had finally sealed the GD blitzkrieg in Southwestern Ontario before it could hit Detroit, and now this happened.

“They suckered us,” the President said.

General Alan nodded. “I believe you’re right, Mr. President.”

David leaned over the map, tracing places with his index finger. “They’ll want to open up the Niagara Peninsula so they can transport supplies more easily into New York.”

“I agree,” Alan said.

“Why come in at Rochester?” the President asked.

“Maybe because it’s the midpoint between Buffalo and Syracuse,” Alan said. “If they take Syracuse, they’ll cut off Army Group New York holding the north. The supplies will dry up for them up there.”

“I can see that,” David said, as he stared at the map. “Clearly, we can’t let Syracuse fall.”

Director Harold stirred. “I’m afraid that we lack the troops to hold on there, sir.”

David glanced at Max.

Anna waited for the man to suggest nuclear weapons to destroy the amphibious beachhead. If they annihilated Rochester—made it a nuclear wasteland—might they not nip this in the bud?

Max didn’t meet David’s gaze. Instead, the director studied the map, and he held his tongue, saying nothing further.

That’s unusual, Anna thought. Why isn’t he suggesting nuclear weapons? This seems like the obvious moment to use them.

David turned to the general and then glanced at the map. His thoughts seemed to drift off to another place.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs cleared his throat.

David looked up at him again. It seemed to take an effort of will, but the President unglued his lips. “What do you suggest? I’d admit… this one baffles me. I’m not sure what to do.”

Alan took off his glasses, blew on a lens and brushed it against his uniform. He put the glasses back on before speaking:

“I’ve given this some thought, sir. The first thing is that we’re going to have to get creative to solve the dilemma. I believe we’re going to have to accept risks that might otherwise seem…well, seem imprudent perhaps.”

“How many Germans are landing at Rochester?” David asked.

“Yes,” Alan said. “That’s the question. The answer so far is many different corps. I’m beginning to think that all of GD Twelfth Army will come ashore there. That’s far too many enemies at the worst possible place for us. A single GD corps would be too much now. We have nothing in reserve, sir.”

“Then…what do we do?” David asked. “Is it over?”

“I have an idea,” Max said quietly.

Here it comes, Anna thought. He’s going to suggest we use nukes. It’s his mantra.

“Mr. President,” Max said. “This is an emergency. I totally agree with General Alan on that. The Germans have outmaneuvered us. We need to get extreme. First, we need our best commander at Syracuse. I suggest you send the Chairman,” Max said, indicating General Alan, “and give him executive authority to do as he sees fit.”

David turned to Alan. “What do you think of that?”

“I’m not sure that I’m the right man for the task, sir,” Alan said.

David clutched the general’s sleeve.

It’s as if he’s grabbing a lifeline, Anna thought. David is desperate. We all are.

“Listen to me closely,” the President said. “This isn’t time for modesty. This is the time for clear thinking and for taking chances.”

Alan nodded.

“Max is one hundred percent correct,” the President said. “I want you in Syracuse to coordinate from ground zero. You have to take charge and stop the Germans from taking the city.”

“What do I use for troops?” Alan asked. “There are a few battalions, I suppose, and some SOCOM commandos. That isn’t enough to stop the Twelfth Army, though.”

The President grimaced, and he went back to studying the map.

“I do have a possible idea,” Alan said. “As I said, I’ve been doing some thinking.”

He’s been waiting to make his suggestion, Anna thought. He’s let David see the hopelessness of the situation because…why? There’s a reason why Alan has built this up.

“Tell me,” the President said. “We don’t have time to dither. We have to act now to save the situation before it’s too late.”

“Sir,” Alan said, “I suggest we move all of XI Airmobile Corps from the Atlantic coast and entrain it for Syracuse.”

David bit his lower lip, gnawing on it with his front teeth. Finally, he stammered, “W-What defends the seaboard from an amphibious assault then? What protects New York City and protects Boston, New Jersey—?”

“That’s the rub, sir,” Alan said. “I don’t think we need to defend the coast.”

“But the amphibious troops waiting in Cuba—”

“Mr. President,” Alan said. “I don’t believe there are any GD troops in Cuba, not in any meaningful numbers.”

“How can you say that?” the President asked. “Our experts have shown—”

“Our experts knew nothing about a GD invasion across Lake Ontario,” Alan said. “We didn’t realize the Germans had been collecting freighters and ore haulers. Our enemy has become an expert at misinformation, at the clever ruse. That’s what I’ve been thinking about during my ride here. I finally asked myself a key question. What does the German Dominion lack in their North American invasion?”

“They don’t lack anything,” the President said.

“That’s wrong, sir,” Alan said. “They’ve always lacked numbers of actual soldiers. That’s why they have so many drones. They’ve worked overtime to compensate for their lack of numbers, for boots on the ground. Are we to seriously believe that the GD has let two hundred thousand soldiers sit idle all this time in Cuba? No, sir, I believe those are dummy troops. The enemy wants us to believe they’re ready to sweep onto our coastline. That ties down an unbelievable number of our formations defending the seaboard. We’ve already stripped much of the East Coast southern shores. That’s given us the advantage in Southwestern Ontario. We’ve turned the tide there because we quit letting ourselves get faked out by the nonexistent Cuba-based troops.”

The President appeared thoughtful, and he began to nod. Then he leaned forward and tapped the map. “Looking at this, at Rochester, it seems clear that the Germans wanted us to stuff all our extra troops into Southwestern Ontario. Those men are engaged now at the wrong point and can’t rush around easily to plug the new gap.”

“That may have been the German intent, sir,” Alan said. “It’s more than possible. Whatever the case, though, I believe the Cuba-based forces are an illusion. That means we can safely entrain the airmobile corps to Syracuse. They will form the heart of my defense.”

“How many soldiers is that?” the President asked.

“Roughly, sir,” Alan said, “twenty-four thousand.”

The President rubbed his chin. “That’s better than the scattering of battalions on the ground now. Still, twenty-four thousand soldiers, no matter how good, will not stop the mass of Twelfth Army for long, if at all.”

“I agree,” Alan said.

David scowled in a way that said—then what are we talking about anyway? “We need more troops,” he said. “But we don’t have any more, unless we wish to deplete the Oklahoma defenses and make ourselves vulnerable to the Chinese.”

“That’s not exactly the case, sir,” Alan said. “There is a supply of unused soldiers we can possibly tap.”

“Don’t hold me in suspense,” David shouted. “What’s your answer?”

“Right here, sir,” Alan said, tapping the Canadian province of Manitoba.

The President’s scowl worsened. “Don’t be oblique. Just tell it to me.”

“At the start of the campaign, the Germans smashed the Canadians on the Ontario-Quebec border,” Alan said. “In rough numbers, the GD killed or captured about a third of that force: two hundred thousand soldiers. A different third retreated toward Toronto and has been fighting in Southern Ontario with our soldiers for some time now. The last third retreated west. First, they headed to Sudbury, Ontario. From there—just as the British in WWII retreated from Burma to India—the Canadians moved away to Thunder Bay and toward Manitoba.”

“What does that mean for us?” the President asked.

“If we can get the Canadians to agree,” Alan said, “I suggest we entrain that army to New York State. They’ve been idle, well, recouping from their terrible ordeal against the GD. With those soldiers, we can keep Syracuse—if they get to the city fast enough and if our airmobile corps fights heroically.”

David sat back against the sofa. Finally, he said, “It’s brilliant.”

General Alan couldn’t hide his grin. “First, sir, you’ll have to get the Canadians to agree to the idea.”

“This may be a stupid question,” Anna said. “But if the Canadians all board the trains and leave, why won’t the Germans march into an unprotected Manitoba?”

“Because they lack the numbers to do so,” Alan said, crisply. “The Germans simply don’t have enough boots on the ground to do everything at once. Just like the British in Burma used distance to flee from the victorious Japanese, so the Canadians have used distance to get away from the Germans. At this point, the GD needs every soldier they have to take New York State.”

“Yes,” David said. “Your plan gives us hope.”

“That’s all it is right now, sir,” Alan said, “a hope. We have to move those Canadians as fast as we can, and we have to fight like hell with the airmobile corps to stop the rushing onslaught of the Germans.”

“What if the GD troops in Cuba are real?” Anna asked. “What happens then?”

David cast her a nervous glance.

“If that’s the case,” General Alan said. “We’re going to need those Canadians sooner than ever.” He looked at the map. “If the Germans are in Cuba, we have to do everything double time.”

“Maybe the Germans commanders are thinking the same thing,” Anna said.

Max looked as if he wanted to say something, but the director closed his mouth and remained silent.

Anna wondered what he’d wanted to say.

The President sat up and brushed his hair with his fingertips. “We have hard, dark days ahead of us. The Germans have stolen a march on our country. We have to work to the utmost now and hope we can outfight and outmarch them.”

We haven’t been able to do that so far, Anna thought. But she wasn’t going to say that. This was a plan, and they would have to implement it as quickly as possible. Just like last winter, much rested on the Canadians. Would they be willing to send those previously defeated soldiers to New York State?  Would they be willing to leave Manitoba undefended for now, or defended solely by space? There were too many unanswered questions for comfort.

HAMILTON, ONTARIO

Without knocking to give warning, Mansfeld opened the door and stared at General Holk. The pudgy general sat at his desk, with his tie undone, his hat on the floor and his thin hair messy on his head as if he’d been running his hands through it.

“General Mansfeld,” Holk said, obviously startled. “This…this is a surprise.”

Mansfeld had received a strange communication this morning. It had come from a colonel on Holk’s staff. The man said General Holk had become increasingly listless and indecisive throughout the past few days. Mansfeld could hardly believe such a thing, as it was a tossup as to who was the better offensive general: Holk or Zeller. How could such an excellent commanding officer lose self-control at such a critical juncture? Still, it was best to check and see for himself, which was why he was here.

Mansfeld closed the door behind him, cutting off the keyboard noises of the situation room. He had much to do today and a thousand things to oversee. The offensive had reached one of its most decisive stages. At Rochester, Zeller had peeled off two corps from Twelfth Army, sending them toward Buffalo sixty-five miles away. Twelfth Army headed toward Syracuse, seventy-five miles away from Rochester. Everything now depended on speed, on surprise and aggression.

“What is the meaning of this?” Mansfeld asked. “I checked, but found that Fourth Army has failed to make any attack yet against US Fifth Army this morning. Were my orders unclear?”

Holk blinked at him, and almost appeared unable to answer.

“This is undignified,” Mansfeld said. “Put on your hat, sir, and straighten your tie.”

For a moment, Holk looked confused. Then he spied his hat on the floor. He reached, and his swivel chair creaked as he bent down and picked it up. First smoothing his hair, he put the hat on his head.

“Hurry,” Mansfeld said. “Tighten your tie. What’s the matter with you?”

Holk appeared to think about it before finally tightening his tie.

The slowness angered Mansfeld. “On your feet, sir!” he snapped. “Stand at attention when I’m speaking to you.”

Something seemed to spark in Holk’s eyes, a touch of belligerence perhaps.

Finally, Mansfeld thought. What’s wrong with you, man? Have you lost your nerve? Must I sack you and find a replacement? What a wretched encumbrance this is.

Holk stood slowly and then came to attention.

Mansfeld understood that he’d been pushing his generals hard, but he’d chosen Holk and Zeller for a reason. War demanded strong nerves. Sending men into battle where those soldiers died took a certain kind of officer. Holk had been making difficult decisions for many weeks now. His enemies had outnumbered him almost all along the line. Yet each time Holk had maneuvered and fought brilliantly. Had the man used up his inner reserves? Mansfeld had thought Holk made of sterner stuff. Was the general a weakling after all?

“Why hasn’t Fourth Army begun its attack?” Mansfeld repeated. “My orders were explicit on that account.”

“I understand, sir,” Holk said.

“If you understand, why hasn’t it happened?”

Holk just stood there.

“Is the pace of the campaign too fast for you?” Mansfeld asked.

Holk stiffened, and the fire in his eyes increased.

Mansfeld had to know whether Holk could continue to act decisively or if he needed to find a replacement for the general. Putting a scathing tone in his voice, Mansfeld said, “I come here and what do I find? You sit with your hat on the floor. You run your hands through your hair as if you’re bewildered by the pace of events.”

“You are wrong, General.”

“Then what’s the matter with you? Tell me.”

“Herr General,” Holk said. “With all due respect—”

“No!” Mansfeld snapped. “Get to the point.”

The words seemed to flick a switch in Holk. He quit standing at attention. With a shift of the neck, he regarded Mansfeld. Holk spoke now in a crisp, clear voice, “Sir, we’ve bitten off too much of a bite.”

That caught Mansfeld by surprise. He almost turned around and shouted for the staff officers to assemble. It looked as if he would have to sack Holk after all. The only thing that caused him to hesitate was uncertainty as to who could take Holk’s place. The general had operational flair. Such men did not grow on trees.

“My time is limited, sir,” Mansfeld said. “Get to the point.”

“I’ll do exactly that, General,” Holk said, with the fire entering his voice. “You’ve flung my army group as a man flings a spear, caring nothing as to whether it shatters or not, as long as it impales the enemy.”

“What does any of that have to do with your failure to attack Fifth Army?”

“Everything,” Holk said. “My soldiers are grossly outnumbered and still you force me to hurl them at the enemy.”

“You’re fond of historical parallels. Did not British General O’Connor drive the Italians before him in North Africa in 1941?”

“Sir?” Holk asked.

“Bah,” Mansfeld said. “You study German military history. I study all military history. Let me make it easier on you. Didn’t Rommel drive the British pell-mell before him in the desert later in 1941?”

“The Americans aren’t Italians or British,” Holk said. “And we’re fighting on their home soil.”

“In point of fact,” Mansfeld said, “we are not. Zeller is fighting on their home soil, and he’s driving them before him. You’re facing Americans in Canada.”

“Zeller faces minuscule resistance,” Holk said. “I face the bulk of the enemy. There is a great difference.”

“By your tone, I believe you still have fire in your belly,” Mansfeld said. “I want to know, therefore, why you’re sitting in your office fretting over my commands.”

Holk opened his mouth, and he closed it.

“Come, come, sir,” Mansfeld said.” I don’t have time to dally. Get to the point while you’re still able to do it.”

“Is that a threat, sir?” Holk asked.

Mansfeld refrained from answering. He’d pushed the general to find out whether the man had lost his nerve or not. It didn’t seem as if the commander had, not yet anyway. He needed to get to the root of this and do it now. To that end, he stared silently into Holk’s eyes.

Holk held the stare for a total of two seconds before looking away. He scowled so lines appeared in his forehead. “Sir, my command withers away around me. The Americans rain artillery at us, turning this into an attritional contest, one that I cannot afford to play. The area where we battle is too small, leaving me without room to maneuver. That’s our specialty and mine in particular. Now you want me to smash against Fifth Army. You know they’re heavily entrenched in the Niagara Peninsula and fortified to resist me. The enemy will meet any breakthrough on my part with suicidal counterattacks led by their penal battalions.”

“My only question for you, General,” Mansfeld said, “is this: so what? That doesn’t tell me why you’ve failed to obey a direct order.”

“There may come a point very soon now when the Americans begin to drive me back toward London,” Holk said, angrily. “We’ve bitten off too large a bite. We don’t have the men—”

“Hold it right there,” Mansfeld said. “I’m beginning to suspect the real reason for your petulance. And it has nothing to do with what you’re saying.”

Holk stiffened, and two red spots appeared on his cheeks.

“You’re an attacker, sir,” Mansfeld said. “It appears you do not have an appetite for defending. Yes, for now, at this place and at this time in Southwestern Ontario, you are on the defensive. Yet you must attack Fifth Army in the Niagara Peninsula in order to fix them in place. The Americans have foolishly put their men in the wrong places, at least in the numbers that they have. The Niagara Peninsula is a trap, but only if you can keep the Americans on your end from pulling out too many excess troops to turn around and face east. The enemy will need those extra soldiers to stop Zeller’s III Armored Corps and IV Corps heading for Buffalo. You must fix the Americans in place and cause them to use all their soldiers to stop you breaking into the peninsula from the west.”

“It will be a bloodbath, sir,” Holk said. “It will uselessly burn up my men, the ones I need to hold back the Americans in the southwest as they drive north for London.”

Mansfeld stepped closer as if he was an American baseball manager ready to argue an umpire’s call. He clutched a pair of leather gloves in his left hand. Instead of slapping Holk across the face with them, he slapped the desk. “Speed, sir. You must employ speed and burn up whatever number of troops and machines of ours that are necessary. This is the moment where we scoop up trapped Americans. Once we destroy Fifth Army in a Cannae maneuver, freeing that flank, you will easily be able to withstand the southern American assaults. I know you see that.”

Holk looked away.

“It’s that stubborn pride of yours,” Mansfeld said. “You’re angry that Zeller has the glory. Isn’t that what’s causing you to pout?”

Holk’s head snapped back. He glared at Mansfeld while the red spots seemed to burn a brighter red.

“Yes,” Mansfeld said. “That’s what this is about. Finally, I understand you.”

“No,” Holk said.

“Yes!” Mansfeld said, and he raised his gloves as if to slap the general across the face.

Holk glared harder, and suddenly, his shoulders deflated. Without asking for permission, Holk sat on his chair. He stared at the floor, opened his mouth and managed a shrug.

“Listen to me,” Mansfeld said.

Holk continued to stare at the floor.

Mansfeld almost told the man to look at him, but he decided it wasn’t needed. Holk was listening finally, truly listening.

“Yours is the precarious position,” Mansfeld said. “I have entrusted you and no other with the most difficult task. Do you think my memoirs will gloss over your part? Zeller attacks. I have not called upon him to preform difficult defensive maneuvers. You are the Renaissance general, the one able to both attack and defend. You have the true mettle, sir, not Zeller.”

“I’m not concerned about such things,” Holk whispered.

Mansfeld laughed aloud.

Holk looked up.

“Let us not lie to each other, Erich,” Mansfeld said. “What military man doesn’t seek glory in combat? You are a genius at battle. Your reputation means everything to you just as it means everything to me. We are older men now, but we still have the spirit of the boy in us. We are human. We’re not machines. Don’t think of yourself as a machine. We all have breaking points and we all have fierce pride. I want you to harness that pride for the glory of Germany and for your own glory, sir. Do not let Zeller hear about you sulking. Let him see that no matter what kind of military situation you find yourself in, you excel. Beat him at being the well-rounded general.”

Slowly, Holk nodded.

Who would believe I needed to give such a pep talk to a GD general like Holk. Yet I spoke the truth a moment ago. We all have the boy hidden in our spirit. Men fight because in the end they like to.

Holk stood up. “I’m sorry about this, sir.”

Mansfeld clapped Holk on the shoulder, and he held out his hand. The two generals shook.

“Can I count on you to the end?” Mansfeld asked.

“Yes, sir,” Holk said. “I will do my duty.”

“Good.”

Holk saluted.

Mansfeld saluted back, turned without another word and took his leave. This wasn’t the only fire that needed putting out, but it was likely the biggest one he’d have today.

NIAGARA PENINSULA

Militia Private Jake Higgins stood at attention as MDG Sergeant Franks prowled in front of the platoon. After leaving them during the battle, the sergeants had returned to find the three survivors.  The lieutenant presently stood behind the sergeant, watching the proceedings as he leaned against his jeep. He fingered something, a crucifix perhaps. Was the man a Catholic? The jeep had a big tarp in back, hiding something bulky underneath.

Charlie stood on one side of Jake while Corporal Lee stood on the other. The rest of the penal platoon was a bunch of newbies. Well, most of the MDGs were the original members, but Jake hardly thought of them as human. The newbies shied away from the three survivors. These newbies were a little better trained than the original batch had been, but not by much.

“The Krauts are stirring,” Franks said in his arrogant way. “They’re obviously going to attack us. They have to, because Fifth Army HQ is planning to send Syracuse Command some extra battalions lying around here. Our side has to drive out the little amphibious attack made at Rochester. That doesn’t mean squat to you girls except for one thing. We’re going to throw a little surprise for the Krauts today. Our CO believes the Germans will spearhead the assault with Sigrids. Like what else is new? So we have a little surprise for them.”

Franks turned and pointed at the lieutenant’s jeep. The lieutenant motioned to another sergeant. The MDG whipped back the tarp to reveal a stack of RPGs.

From his place in the lineup, Jake couldn’t tell for certain, but they looked newer than the old ones—the ancient RPGs they’d used days ago. The older pieces of junk had usually bounced off a Sigrid’s armor. The HEAT shells hadn’t even ignited, and therefore had done as much damage as an M16’s bullet.

“Most of you will get an RPG,” Franks said. “Those that don’t will team up with a militiaman who does. If your partner dies, you take his weapon and use it. Anyway, you’re all going to crawl out into no-man’s land. I suggest you do it slow and easy. Otherwise, the enemy’s automated system will pick you off, and we don’t want that.”

Yes, you do, Jake thought.

“Find a shell-hole to hide in,” Franks said. “There are a lot of them out there and plenty of them are deep. Just make sure you don’t hide in one with an unexploded warhead.”

Several of the newbies glanced at each other with incredulous stares. Jake knew they were still getting used to the sergeant’s morbid humor, which always came at a penal militiaman’s expense.

“After you get comfortable,” Franks said, “you wait. When the Sigrids came, you hunker down in the bottom and use your ears instead of your eyes. You let them pass. Once they’re clanking at our first trench, firing at our strongpoints, then you’re going to pop up like gophers. You let them have it at from behind—ka-boom. It will be easy.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jake noticed some of the newbies turn white with fright.

“That’s suicide,” one newbie said, an older guy with white in his hair. Jake heard the man had been a pastor teaching the wrong things about homosexuality. The government had certain rules about what priests and preachers were supposed to say behind their pulpits.

Franks strode to the newbie, pulling out a shock rod from his holster as he did. “What did you say?” the sergeant asked.

The newbie with white in his hair began to tremble, and he shook his head.

Franks smirked, and he raised his voice. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”

Jake raised a hand.

Franks’ eyes lit up, and he approached, with the shock rod ready, his thumb resting on the on-off switch. “Go head, Private. I’m listening.”

“Will you be out there with us, Sarge?” Jake asked.

Franks glared at Jake, but finally, he turned toward the lieutenant.

“Tell him,” the lieutenant said. “It’s a reasonable question.”

Jake didn’t twitch or quit looking straight ahead. He still felt the surprise from the newbies: the survivor could ask questions without receiving a beating from the guards.

Jake had wondered before about the lieutenant. Did the man feel remorse sometimes for being part of such a dickhead organization?

“If you had a brain in that thick skull of yours,” Franks said, “you would have already figured out that we’ll be in the trenches.” The sergeant grinned. “We’ll be watching each of you heroes. If any of you runs away…” The sergeant’s grin turned nasty. “If you run, you’re dead meat. We’ll be at the machine guns today.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Jake said. “That answers my question.”

Sergeant Dan Franks stared at him. Then he said under his breath, “One of these days, Higgins…”

Yes, Jake thought. One of these days, he was going to kill Franks. Maybe he’d kill all the MDGs of his platoon. The detention sergeants were monsters who delighted in tormenting penal militiamen and in killing some of them as the opportunities arose.

“Line up!” Franks shouted, as he put away the shock rod. “You’re going to get your RPG and then you’re going to head out into no-man’s land.”

BATAVIA, NEW YORK

What was left of the Galahad C Troop, along with the other hovers of 8th Squadron, maneuvered through the city streets of Batavia. The town was along Interstate 90 from Rochester to Buffalo, and III Armored Corps HQ wanted it cleared of any active hostiles or partisans.

Lieutenant Teddy Smith didn’t like it. He sat in the pilot’s seat, with his hands sweaty on the controls and his eyes peeled. The town was too quiet, too ghostlike. Fleck’s hover led the way, and he kept passing overturned dinner plates.

The Americans finally have a chance to use IEDs against others, Smith thought. He knew what the overturned dinner-plates were supposed to be: decoys to frighten them. It was odd and a bit funny that the Americans didn’t actually have any IEDs on hand. Therefore, they pretended to have some, setting out overturned plates.

Holloway must have been thinking similar thoughts. The sergeant said from his seat, “I thought America was supposed to be filled with guns.”

Smith glanced back at the sergeant. The man tensely watched through the main gun-port like a man looking out of a cave. For once, the sergeant appeared nervous, wiping beads of perspiration from under his nose. That wasn’t a good sign. They weren’t in Canada anymore, but in the good old U.S.A.

“Why doesn’t anyone fire at us?” Holloway asked. “This is as good a chance as any of them is going to get. I don’t know who sent hovers into a built-up area, but it’s daft.”

That was the military for you. But it was no good complaining about it, especially not out here. So Smith answered the first question instead of the second.

“Didn’t you study your history in school?” Smith asked.

“I guess not,” Holloway said.

“In the past, the Americans debated each other on gun control,” Smith said. “I remember my history teacher talking about it. The US Government used to try to take away the regular folks’ guns. The gun owners wouldn’t budge, though, and there were enough of them that they had the votes to stop any congressman foolish enough to try it.”

“Americans love guns,” Holloway said. It was an old proverb.

“I remember my teacher saying the Americans had a good argument concerning their right to have guns, at least as long as the powerful had theirs. The argument went something like this: As soon as the President and the members of Congress and the rich went without their gun-toting bodyguards, the ordinary people would give up their firearms. But as long as the President wanted to protect his family, the regular folk figured they had a right to protect theirs, too.”

“So what happened?” Holloway asked.

“The US Government got wise. Instead of taking people’s guns away, they bought up all the ammo. Let them have empty guns, right?”

Holloway laughed, nodding in appreciation.

“It’s not really that funny,” Smith said, “because in the end, a lot of the American people started making their own ammo.”

“You’re kidding,” Holloway said. “Their government allowed that.”

“I don’t think their government had much of a choice,” Smith said. “If they wanted a civil war against the gun owners, they could try to grab the firearms, but those in power must have realized that then they would have soon been dead. Bloody Hell!” Smith shouted.

Fleck’s Galahad led the way sixty meters ahead of them. Fleck had been pausing at most of the overturned dinner plates, having his gunner shoot several rounds into each, breaking the things. It looked like Fleck must have become lazy. Maybe the Americans had been counting on that. These gun lovers were sly bastards.

Lieutenant Fleck’s Galahad went over something that exploded. A bright flash preceded billowing smoke. The armored skirt likely saved Fleck’s life, but the hover grounded hard, sparking down the street until it came to a halt.

That must have been the signal, though. From nearby buildings—a hardware store, a grocery store and a bicycle repair shop—rifles and something bigger opened up. The gunfire pinged off the grounded Galahad’s armor. Then what looked like a crude rocket roared out of the bicycle repair shop. The rocket wobbled as it flew and it struck the Galahad, igniting with a boom.

Holloway shouted a curse. It showed that he was far too wound up today.

“Smith!” 8th Squadron’s colonel said over the radio. “Take out the bicycle shop.”

“You heard the colonel,” Smith said. He revved the engine and turned sharp left.

Their 76mm thundered. A HE round entered the repair shop and exploded, destroying a section of wall.

“Give it another!” Smith shouted.

Two more Galahads moved up. As they did, a homemade rocket barreled out of the grocery store. This one didn’t wobble, but it had longer to go to reach one of them.

Holloway’s machine gun and Fleck’s burning vehicle took it down so the missile plowed on the street and exploded against a flower shop. It paid to have better targeting computers and better electronics.

The skirmish in outer Batavia went on for another eight minutes, but it quickly turned against the Americans. Artillery rained down from nearby GD mobile vehicles. Smoke shells also landed. Then Smith saw running American partisans trying to flank him. Holloway saw it, too. He brought the 12.7mm machine gun around, and the sergeant knocked down or killed three of the enemy. A woman scrambled behind a building, getting away.

“More are coming,” Holloway said in his clipped voice.

“Fleck!” Smith said. Then he stopped. Fleck staggered out of a cloud of smoke as he half dragged, half carried his gunner. No wonder they had been taking so long. Bright red blood streaked down the gunner’s leg.

“Hang on,” Smith said. He goosed the controls, and the Galahad started for Fleck.

Then both the pilot and wounded gunner went down as two grenades landed at their feet. Fleck saw the rolling metal balls at the last second, and he froze. The grenades blew. Fleck and the gunner tumbled backward in a tangled, gruesome mess.

Before Smith could comment about it, a ground-attack plane showed up. The squat thing released napalm, several canisters of it. Batavia began to burn as oily smoke billowed skyward.

This wasn’t a matter of destroying a town to save it as practiced in Vietnam back in the 1960s. Instead, by the radio chatter, Smith realized that HQ had decided on a new procedure. If the Americans fought too stubbornly in a town along Interstate 90, the Expeditionary Force would burn the place down—or they would drop enough napalm to give it a go. It was time for the gun-lovers to grow up and know when they’d been outmaneuvered, and when the GD soldiers had honestly beaten them.

Smith used a rear-viewing camera to glance back at the burning place. This was a bit like the Lock Ness Submarine. The Americans fought from hiding. That wasn’t like the bloody chaps in the old days, when Americans had owned all the firepower. Smith frowned. Maybe these Americans went back to deeper roots. Hadn’t the Americans in 1776 fought from behind trees, fences and boulders, sniping at British Redcoats?

This time it will be different. This time, the Europeans are going to win the war.

PARIS, ILE DE FRANCE

John Red Cloud was near despair as he lay on a sofa in the safe house that had become his jail. The place had an odor of stale sweat, cigarettes and cheap coffee. He had spent many days here, guarded by three suspicious gunmen of Serbian extraction. None of the three spoke French, English or Algonquin. He could understand the last two, but not the lack of French.

He had walked into the secret service agent’s house. The old woman had called her son. Instead of him appearing, these three had entered with guns drawn. John could have snapped the old woman’s neck—the French agent had betrayed him. But Red Cloud did not war against old women.

He went with these three to this house, and for the past days, they had guarded him, given him food and made him understand that if he attempted to leave, they would kill him.

John did not despair out of fear. What bothered him was his weakening resolve. Days of nothing had sapped his morale. He knew that everyone had his or her breaking point. The path of death wasn’t a good place to sit. One had to move on the path, heading for destruction. The resolve gave one power. Unfortunately, the power leaked away as his certainty wavered.

Maybe he should have returned to Quebec when he had the chance. Maybe it would have been better to end his days in his homeland. Let the Old World and New World Europeans fight among themselves and destroy each other. What did he care?

John closed his eyes. He recalled the meeting with the GD ambassador last winter. The man had insulted him, and through the insult, the man had insulted the Algonquin people.

I have no right to fear. I am the representative of my people. I am the Spirit of Death of the Algonquians. I will destroy Chancellor Kleist. I will leave this prison and

From outside, a key inserted into the front door lock and turned.

The Serbians stood. One drew a pistol. One picked up a pump shotgun and the other clacked the bolt of a submachine gun. All three of them aimed their weapons at the door.

The door opened, and the odor of smoke preceded a small man in a plain overcoat. He had dark, tousled hair, a cigarette between his lips and dark eyes like Red Cloud.

The Frenchman glanced at the Serbians. He rapidly spoke their language. The three put away their weapons, sat and went back to playing dominoes on the table.

The man in the overcoat approached Red Cloud, who sat up on the sofa.

The cigarette dangling from the man’s mouth smoldered. He stopped before Red Cloud and studied him. “You are not Basque,” the man said in French, speaking crisply.

John shook his head.

“The Basque died in Halifax,” the Frenchman said. “Someone cut his throat.”

“I did,” John said.

“To gain his ID, I presume.”

“Yes.”

“You killed two CID men several days ago?”

“I left them in the BMW.”

“You’ve left quite a trail of death,” the Frenchman said. “And you frightened my agent’s mother. Neither he nor I appreciate that.”

“I understand.”

Ashes fell from the Frenchman’s cigarette, landing on the carpet and beginning to smolder. He stepped on the spot and turned his foot. Then he took the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it onto the coffee table. While unbuttoning his coat, the small man sat in the sofa chair. He never took his eyes off Red Cloud.

“You are an Indian,” the man said.

“Algonquin.”

“Call me Mr. Foch,” the man said.

“John Red Cloud.”

Foch did not hold out his hand. Since this was his land, John followed the man’s example and did not hold out his either.

“Why did you come here, John Red Cloud? Why did you pester my agent’s mother?”

John glanced at the three Serbians.

“They understand nothing of what we say,” Foch told him. “But if I snap my fingers, they will kill you without hesitation. Perhaps I should tell you, I am inclined toward snapping my fingers. Everything I know about you so far smells of desperation and stupidity. I like dealing with neither.”

“I am on a quest,” John said. “I have come to Europe to kill Chancellor Kleist.”

Foch laughed softly. “That is ridiculous.”

“It is the truth. I am on a quest.”

While shaking his head, Foch asked, “Why would you come to a French secret service agent’s house then? It does not make sense.”

“The French hate the Germans, is that not so?” John asked.

“Ridiculous,” Foch said. He stood up, beginning to button his coat with one hand.

John stood too.

The three Serbians also stood, and they readied their weapons.

Once more, Foch studied Red Cloud. “I am to believe you truly killed the Basque for his ID?”

“The German Dominion offered my people their freedom,” John said. “Because of that, I helped the GD sway the Quebecers.”

“Sway how?” Foch asked.

“By killing rebel Quebecers who wished for Chinese aid,” John said.

“Ah. I see. This is more ridiculous by the moment. Go on.”

“When the time came for the Dominion to grant us our freedom,” John said, “the GD ambassador told me to go away. He insulted us and reneged on his promises.”

“Hmm, I recall something about our ambassador dying several months ago in Quebec.”

“I killed him,” John said. “That was my declaration of war against the GD.”

“That part makes sense at least. The ambassador was the Dominion representative. He insulted you—your people—and you killed him, insulting the GD. Still, I fail to see why you would come to us. We are part of the Dominion.”

“Do you want Kleist to succeed in his endeavors, cementing German dominance over Europe, over the world?”

Foch stared at Red Cloud until he said, “The Expeditionary Force is winning. If Kleist dies, nothing changes. Another like him will rise up.”

“You do not know that.”

“But I do,” Foch said. “No. We cannot help you. Neither can we let you go.”

Red Cloud grew tense, and there was a tightness under his heart, a sudden prick of pain. Perhaps it would be better to attack now and end the waiting.

Foch might have seen him tense, or seen something about Red Cloud to trouble him. “However…” the Frenchman said.

Red Cloud let his shoulder ease, and the pain under his heart receded.

“If something dramatic should happen to change the North American situation…” Foch said. “I will have to ponder your information. It is very odd, very strange.”

Red Cloud couldn’t think of anything wise or even pithy to say. He sat down. Once more, it was time to wait. He was willing to die, but he wanted to make his death worth something.

The small Frenchman nodded to the three Serbians and headed for the door. He exited the safe house and turned the key, locking it again.

The Serbians glanced at John.

He lay down on the sofa, closed his eyes and practiced patience one slow breath at a time.

NIAGARA PENINSULA

Jake crawled through the bomb-blasted, moonlike terrain. Behind him were coils of concertina wire and the deep trench system of the first American line of defense. Far above, a crow circled lazily. To his left, Charlie crawled through muddy ground, passing straight through a puddle. The veteran ground-pounder must figure it was safer to crawl through the muck then to go around. The longer one moved through no-man’s land the worse it was.

There were patches of dying, brown grass and long weeds here, but that was about it as far as vegetation went. Otherwise, there were shell holes, bloated, dead bodies, rusting drones and APCs and hordes of flies and mosquitoes. The annoying bugs made it a nightmare crawl.

Like the others, Jake wore camouflage fatigues and helmet, and plenty of mosquito-repellant. He clutched an RPG, and he kept his M16 with him. He slunk across the ground very slowly. This had to be about the stupidest, most harebrained scheme of all. It was murder. Once he found his spot, he was going to turn his weapon on Franks and kill the bastard before he died. Crawling out into no-man’s land was too much, and it had Jake seething with righteous indignation.

He wore face paint and he scanned the enemy trench system in the distance. The GD pricks had little black sticks in the ground: cameras or sensors of some kind.

At times, Jake watched the GD outposts so hard that it felt as if his eyes would bug out. The enemy system was different from the American trenches. For one thing, the Germans didn’t have any people in their first trench line. Automated systems watched, and they were highly effective.

A shot rang out, a militiaman shouted in pain, and one less newbie existed in the lieutenant’s penal platoon.

Out of the corner of his eye to the left, Jake noticed as the man slumped as if the air had just hissed out of him. The dead newbie had to be eighty yards away. At least the platoon was spread out. Still, wouldn’t the enemy have a computer system that realized a whole bunch of fools was crawling around out here?

“This is murder,” Charlie whispered.

“Don’t talk,” Jake whispered. “And for Pete’s sake, don’t move right now. Stay still. Give it time to rest.” He meant give the enemy system time to dull down. From observation, they knew that once the GD system fired a weapons system, it was much more likely to do it again really soon.

As if on cue, another shot rang out. This time, the targeted militiaman didn’t shout or yell. The bullet punctured his helmet and spilled his brains like jelly. He just stopped, end of reality that fast: snap, snap.

The enemy trench system was higher up than they were. It gave the GD yet another advantage. Hadn’t the Germans had that advantage in WWI, in the trench systems in France? His dad would have known the answer. Jake remembered something about the Germans being able to look down into the Allied trenches, at least most of the time.

For now, Jake remained motionless and it set his mind to whirling, thinking. He couldn’t believe he had survived this cockamamie penal screw-job for as long as he had. Franks had a death wish going for him, and higher command used the penal units for the dirtiest tasks.

As he lay still, Jake used to his eyes to scan the situation. Nearby, Charlie waited like a mannequin. One thing the penal screw-job had done was turn Charlie into a decent soldier. In this outfit, either you got good fast or you died. It had been that way in Russia during WWII against the Germans, at least in the early years of 1941 and ‘42. Corporal Lee had already been good at this. Jake’s two new best friends were survivors, and they’d become canny in many different ways.

“Can we move now?” Charlie whispered.

“Give it a full twenty minutes,” Jake whispered, “and don’t get antsy.”

A couple of minutes later, a fly buzzed near, and of course it landed on Jake’s cheek. He didn’t twitch a muscle and for sure he didn’t move up his hand to brush the fly away. He endured, and told himself he liked the feeling of the fly’s legs crawling over his skin. The thing crawled onto his eyelid. He wanted to roar curses and brush the fly away. He’d be dead if he did that, so Jake merely flicked his eyelid, and the creature buzzed away, to return soon and start the process all over again.

The minutes ticked by in agonizing slowness. Finally, Jake continued his crawling trek. Maybe he was the fly, and he crawled upon the Earth’s face. Naw, that was stupid. One thing was certain; he knew where he planned to go. There was a shell hole thirty yards away. It looked deep. Likely it had water in the bottom, as it had been raining on and off for several days.

Every night Jake took off his boots and socks and checked his feet. He dried them all the time and used the tip of his knife to scrape dirt from under his toenails. He told Charlie and Lee to dry theirs. Fungus had started to spread among the newbies, that and athlete’s foot. If your feet went, you were done, kaput. Was kaput anything like Kraut?

Jake sighed. The word was that the Krauts had landed in Rochester. That couldn’t be good. He wondered what his dad was doing now. How was his mother? He thought about his old buddies. Man, Denver seemed like a lifetime ago. The strip club…what had ever happened to the girl he’d talked with? She’d been a babe, all right.

Will I survive the war?

He didn’t see how. He didn’t see how America would, either. We’re not the nation we used to be. How could he help America once again become the land of freedom? First, they had to stop the Krauts and throw the Chinese and Brazilians back home. Then, eventually, the real, old-fashioned Americans needed to take care of those who wanted to enslave the rest of them. Maybe once this is over it will be time for a civil war. The Davy Crocket Americans can set up their own country and the communist types can have their country, which won’t be America, but what the heck. It’s what they seem to want.

Jake decided that as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t afford to use his last RPG to kill Dan Franks. The sergeant was a grade-A bastard. In Jake’s experience there was none worse. Franks deserved to die for the Americans he’d killed. The penal battalion militiamen were the real Americans, the kind who spoke up when those in power did something wrong. For evil to triumph, all good men must do is to do nothing. Some English theorist had said that a long time ago.

The statement told Jake several things. One, there were good men and there were evil men. Those who said otherwise were idiots. Those who said ideas and culture were relative and equal to each other didn’t know what they were talking about. Those who said people should accept everything as being equal to everything else were straight up fools, and America had been listening to the fools for far too long now. Why didn’t they listen to the Daniel Boone types? That’s why it had come to this. Having penal battalions was the socialist thinking of the schoolmen who wanted to brainwash the rest of America.

For evil to triumph, all good men must do is to do nothing.

Jake had spoken up, and that’s why he was in a penal unit. America, America: what had happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave?

If I survive this, I’m going to change my country. I’m going to bring back Daniel Boone America. I’m going to fight to free her from the invaders, and then I’m going to fight to free her from the homegrown tyrants and their useful idiots.

Thinking such thoughts made Jake feel better. Then enemy artillery opened up. There were loud, thunderous booms in the distance. Giant flashes told of big shells on the way.

“That can’t be good,” Charlie said.

No. That wasn’t good. Jake wanted to speed up, but he continued the slow crawl. If he moved too fast, he was dead. So slow and easy won the game.

The enemy shells howled over them. Big, car-sized hunks of metal tumbled overhead. None landed among them. Was that a miracle?

Who knew?

Finally, Jake gained his great reward: a waterlogged shell hole. With infinite patience taught from the school of hard knocks, Jake slipped into the watery hole. The yellow water came up to his hips. Soon Charlie and Lee joined him, making tiny splashes as they hunkered down in the hole with him.

“Now what?” Charlie asked. “We made it and the enemy is pulverizing our lines.”

Jake squinted. He knew which outposts on their trench line were dummies and which were heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. He was pretty sure he knew the one that Sergeant Franks hid behind. If he lifted the RGP…

Don’t be stupid, Jake told himself. Franks has been watching me the whole time. He expects me to shoot at him. If you want to kill the sergeant, you’ll have to let the Sigrids pass and attack Franks for you.

That wasn’t a bad idea, but he kept it to himself.

The enemy artillery thundered. The shells hammered the ground, searching for puny men hiding in the Earth.

“Do you hear that?” Charlie asked ten minutes later.

“All I hear is pounding in my ears,” Jake said.

“Listen,” Charlie said.

“Get down,” Lee hissed. The corporal lowered himself into the yellow water until only his head remained above it. The RPG lay higher up beside the shell-hole lip. Lee must have figured he could pick it up later.

Jake still couldn’t hear a thing except for the artillery, but he followed Lee’s example. Charlie did likewise.

Soon enough, Jake heard the squealing, clanking noise of Sigrid drones. His stomach tightened and fear began to claw for his attention.

This is wrong. This is murder putting us out here. I should be safe in the trench. Why does it make any difference if we fire these from the front or the back of the machine?

“Sometimes,” Jake said. Then his mouth dried up. The words wouldn’t come now. He wanted to close his eyes and just slip his head underwater.

An AI Kaiser HK appeared in his limited gaze. The thing was monstrous, and it had a squat, ugly cannon. The 175mm gun was like a short stogie clenched between the teeth of a psychopath. The Kaiser had a host of antennae sprouting from its top. Jake had never been this close to one before. The monster had poking autocannons everywhere and heavy machine guns, and beehive flechette launchers up the ying-yang. The HK could murder them all, no sweat. The good guys didn’t have any heavy stuff, not out here in no-man’s land to take out Kaisers.

Behind the Kaiser appeared another, and then a third and a fourth.

Now we know where they enemy is making his main assault.

“What do we do?” Charlie whispered.

Jake stared at his friend from Idaho. The look said one thing: keep your yap sewed shut, thank you oh-so much.

The three penal militiamen waited in their watery slop-hole. Three puny RPGs waited below the lip like metal sandbags.

Trying not to look directly at the things, Jake counted seven Kaisers. There were probably more. He could only see so much ducked down in his hole. It was like being mice as a herd of elephants walked by, or being antelope as a hungry pride of lions trotted past.

Treads clanked. Gun turrets rotated and barrels elevated. The ground shook and trembled as the big tanks passed. Bits of dirt from the edge of the shell hole plopped into the yellow water. It was like doom coming, and Jake feared the three of them would be buried alive as a Kaiser squashed them as he might squash a beetle with his heel.

In the distance, artillery boomed.

Is that theirs or ours?

The artillery ended up being American, and it was aimed at the Kaisers, meaning the shells screamed down onto no-man’s land.

We’re dead, Jake thought. It looks like our side is going to kill us after all.

As the HKs rumbled past their shell hole—big, looming machines casting them in death-shadows—their flechettes hissed and machine guns chattered relentlessly. The autocannons chugged, spewing shells skyward. Jake saw a sight of a lifetime. The metal monsters knocked out the incoming artillery tank-killers. Black ink seemed to explode in the sky, violent art like an anti-Fourth of July. It was crazy-sick and it likely saved his life by keeping the Kaisers busy, even as shrapnel plunked and rained like hail into the soggy ground of no-man’s land.

What am I supposed to think about this?

Jake might have heard a man wail in agony. Had a piece of shrapnel killed the sucker? He had no way of finding out. His nostrils were just above the water so he could breathe.

Then a Kaiser clanked its way directly over their hole. The two sets of treads passed on either side of them. They saw up into the oily underbelly. Maybe they could have fired a rocket and done some damage. Each of them just stared upward in shock and disbelief.

The machine passed, and they breathed normally again. Shortly thereafter, the American artillery stopped firing. The Kaisers obliged and likewise quit shooting. Soon, the last Kaiser clanked out of no-man’s land and reached the first American trench.

A few of the newbies must have had no idea of the AI tanks’ deadliness. Jake couldn’t believe it. As the last Kaisers clanked away, several unthinking newbies put their RPGs on their shoulders, aimed and fired at the enemy backsides.

One Kaiser paused. Autocannons knocked down the shaped-charge grenades flying at it. It was like swatting fleas. Machine guns chattered for less than ten seconds. Every militiaman who’d fired a rocket died in no-man’s land.

Jake, Charlie and Lee continued to wait. They eased up from time to time and watched the Kaisers take out the few MDGs who remained at their posts in the forward trench.

Charlie looked at Jake as if he wanted to comment. Jake already knew what the potato-grower was going to say. “Where did all the MDG sergeants go?” Too few of them had remained at their posts.

Jake could have told him where the others had gone, and no, it hadn’t been their own artillery killing them. Most of the MDGs took off before the Kaisers reached the trench system. It was suicide to fight the un-killable, and the detention guards certainly weren’t suicidal.

After the Kaisers trundled out of sight, heading deeper into the American defensive system, Charlie finally spoke:

“Now what do we do?”

Jake was ready to tell him.

“Wait,” Lee said. “I hear more coming.”

Charlie turned pale. “Come on. That isn’t fair. Do you guys think that’s fair?”

“These sound smaller,” Jake said, who had his head cocked.

“Yes,” Lee agreed. “These are the Sigrids.”

“Wonderful,” Jake said.

“What are we going to do?” Charlie asked.

“For one thing,” Jake said. “We’re going to wait right here. The Kaisers left us alone. I doubt the Sigrids will look for us either.”

But Jake was wrong: not dead wrong, just wrong.

Five Sigrids squealed and clanked into view. Each of the smaller vehicles had its special tri-barrel, and they hosed bullets into the first penal militiaman, slamming an older man with white in his hair and blowing his head clean off.

“They know we’re here!” Jake shouted. “Fire! Fire at them!”

He didn’t know if anyone other than Charlie and Lee heard him. Maybe waiting out in no-man’s land had changed some of the newbies. Maybe watching Kaisers roll past had changed them.

Five Sigrids faced a host of RPG-armed Americans in shell holes.

“One, two, three, four, five!” Jake shouted.

“I’ll take one!” Charlie shouted.

“Two,” Lee said.

“Yeah, I’ll take out number five,” Jake said. “It’s the farthest away.” He didn’t want them to all shoot at the same machine.

Jake took a deep breath. “Ready?”

His two best friends nodded.

“Go,” Jake said.

Each militiaman slipped up and took his RPG. The five Sigrids hosed death at everything. Their tiny turrets swiveled and the tri-barrels rotated as they spit flames and lead. Despite their smaller size, the things were living mayhem.

With practiced skill, Jake readied his RPG, aimed it at the number five Sigrid and pulled the trigger. The shaped-charge grenade whooshed out. Beside him, Charlie and Lee’s rockets did the same thing. Other militiamen must have heard Jake’s instructions, because now all over the shell holes in no-man’s land, penal militiamen popped up and fired.

These weren’t guided missiles. These were aimed just like a rifle or a BB gun. Dozens of rockets flew at the Sigrids. Most of the missiles missed their targets, burning past to blow up harmlessly out of range of any enemy.

Charlie’s grenade hit, exploded and tore a tri-barrel into uselessness. Lee’s struck and launched the vehicle airborne enough to flip it so it landed on its rounded head. Jake’s destroyed a port, and the thing died. Three other HEAT grenades blasted the fourth Sigrid and obliterated it. That left one useable vehicle against the rest of the penal platoon.

“All together!” Jake shouted. His voice was loud like a PE coach. “We have to fire at it all together.”

Unfortunately, they were out of RPGs. All they had left were their regular M16s.

“Here we go,” Jake said. “One more time.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said.

Jake popped up. Charlie popped up and so did Lee. The three militiamen fired, hammering the armored hide with bullets. Then more militiamen did likewise: they were the last newbies left. Maybe the Sigrid had taken damage elsewhere. Who knew, who cared? The point today was that with all the bullets pinging off it, enough did enough damage that the drone trundled into a shell hole, tipped over and plunged in headfirst. Maybe they had shot out its camera lenses.

“Stop firing!” Jake roared.

As the sound of rifle fire died away, a feeling of awe worked over Jake, a chill of disbelief on the back of his neck. They’d done it. They had stopped the Sigrids or this small bunch anyway. Five lousy machines: were the Germans running out of them?

“Now what do we do?” Charlie asked.

Jake climbed out of the shell hole. The sound of combat came from farther down the line, but right now, their sector was quiet.

Water dripped from him and water soaked his clothes. It made his underwear ride up too high. Someone had to take over now that the lieutenant and his butt-boys had run off or died. It might as well be him. Lee was a corporal, but Jake had once been a sergeant.

“All right!” he shouted. “Let’s gather round, and follow me to the first trench. We need a plan if we’re going to make it back to our side.”

The others didn’t need any more urging. They hurried to him and he led them back to the overrun trench system.

-12- The GD Armada

From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040

2040, July 11-16. Breakout. From Rochester, Zeller sent two corps heading for Buffalo sixty-five miles to the southwest. A weakened Twelfth Army sped east on Interstate 90 for Syracuse seventy-five miles away. New York City was 250 miles away from Rochester.

In Southern Ontario, Holk’s heavy assaults against US Fifth Army in the Niagara Peninsula retarded its disengagement and threatened the army’s entrapment within the peninsula.

To the east in New York State, the lead elements of the coastal US XI Airmobile Corps set up screening battalions in Syracuse as the others rushed for the city. Meanwhile, the first Canadian units in Manitoba entrained for the long, roundabout trip to New York. All along the north of First Front—from the northern edge of Lake Ontario to the Quebec border and then stretching across northern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire—US Army Group New York and US Army Group New England strove to contain the GD Fromm Offensive.

The Americans sought to defend nearly everything of First Front, as they waited for the Canadian reinforcements. It was a matter of time. They had to stop the new GD blitz along New York Interstate 90 long enough for the Canadians to give them overwhelming numbers. Mansfeld, meanwhile, readied his masterstroke from the Atlantic Ocean.

The unsolvable crisis point for America had almost arrived.

INTERSTATE 90, NEW YORK

In the darkness, Paul Kavanagh slid his motorcycle on gravel, taking it down in a controlled crash. He flipped out of the bike at the last second, twisting his ankle—his foot wrenched against the gear-shifter. He tumbled, weapons rolling off him and body armor compressing against his torso. His helmeted head slammed against a rock, and he lay there for a moment, stunned.

Since leaving Ontario Beach Park and Rochester, Paul and Romo had been involved in one long running and losing gun battle against the enemy.

Paul heard a dirt bike engine, and a tire crunching gravel. From seemingly far away a voice asked, “Amigo, what happened to you?”

While groaning and blinking, Paul sat up. The stars shone above. In the distance and lower down, a dark GD tank column used Interstate 90. Littered along the freeway were blasted M1 tanks, overturned Bradley fighting vehicles and holed Strykers. The US 9th Armored Battalion had made a stand a half hour ago. The brave soldiers had slowed the GD advance, but not for long enough. Paul had watched some of the battle from the air in a stealth helo. He’d seen the battalion die a bitter death.

Now he and Romo used dirt bikes. They’d landed several miles back, wrestling their machines out of the helo. They were close enough to the interstate now that they were going to crawl nearer and wash the tank column with a laser designator. It was the best way to defeat GD ECM, guiding US missiles straight onto target.

“Are you hurt?” Romo asked.

Paul felt along his helmet as if feeling his head. The skull didn’t throb, but his eyes felt wobbly. Digging into a pocket, he came up with some painkillers, swallowing two capsules. He didn’t have time to hurt, and he certainty hadn’t had time for sleep these past thirty-six hours.

“I’m fine,” Paul said.

“Is that why I hear a frog in your throat?” Romo asked, shutting off his bike and lying it down. “We don’t dare ride any closer.”

There was scrub here on the rolling hill. A dark farmhouse and barn stood lower down in the distance and to the side. There was a long driveway to a dirt road near the freeway.

Romo crouched low beside Paul, and he scratched his left cheek, digging in his fingernails, making scraping noises. “I fear your country doesn’t have enough to win this one. The Germans are slicing through everything command can throw at them. The Germans are going to take Syracuse. If they do…” Romo stopped scratching because he shook his head.

Paul knew what he meant. Syracuse was the key to the campaign. North and south, Interstate 81 went through Syracuse. It was the supply lifeline for Army Group New York to the north. From Lake Ontario to Cornwall near the Quebec border, the Army Group held back mass GD forces. Without the lifeline, Army Group New York would have to fall back. That would open up Army Group New England’s western flank. If Army Group New England collapsed…

America had to hold Syracuse. The US XI Airmobile Corps stationed on the Atlantic coast rushed to the city. Now, though, nothing guarded the Atlantic seaboard. If the German Dominion used its amphibious force in Cuba to rush to New Jersey, New York or the Connecticut cost…it wouldn’t face anything but for a few policemen in their squad cars.

Paul knew it looked bad for their side, awful in fact. But it had been that way in California, too. It had been that way in Texas, in Kansas, in Colorado…

“This can’t go on,” Paul said.

“This is a sad day for your country, my friend,” Romo said. “I know the feeling. It’s too bad there is nowhere for you to run. When Mexico fell to the Chinese, I could come here. We can’t go to Canada, because soon there will not be a Canada.”

“Okay,” Paul said. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

Romo held him back. “Let us wait a few more minutes. It doesn’t matter, anyway.”

Paul picked up the laser designator. It looked like a bulky, overheavy assault rifle. He shouldered the strap and tested his bad ankle. Pain flared, but he’d had worse. Slipping off the strap, he set down the designator, sat on the gravel and began tightening the laces of his combat boots. He was going to tie this sucker tight. His ankle could worry about swelling later.

“You’re driven,” Romo commented.

“I guess.” Paul stood, tested the ankle and could feel the tendons stretch until pain flared. It hurt, but he figured he could go another five hundred miles if he had to. If he didn’t, his wife would be a widow and maybe even some Chinese soldier’s play toy. He didn’t like the Chinese. He didn’t like the Brazilians, and he sure as hell didn’t like these Germans either.

“Come on,” Paul said.

Romo sighed, following him.

They worked down the hill, climbed through a barbed wire fence and moved through a pasture.

The enemy column moved in the darkness. No moon, just shining stars up there. Had the Germans planned that, too, attacking during the right phase of the moon? The Krauts were good at war. Maybe they always had been. That didn’t make him like them any better.

“This is a good spot,” Romo said.

“We’re close enough?” Paul asked.

“Si.”

Paul lay on the grass. So did Romo. Soon, Paul trained the designator on the distant column. “I got it,” he said.

Romo used a one-time pad, and he spoke with their SOCOM coordinator. In the dark, he told Paul, “They’re on their way.”

There weren’t too many cruise missiles left in stock in this part of the country. Their side had to use them wisely now. It wasn’t like the old days when America could pour hardware at a problem and make it disappear in a haze of countless explosions.

Enemy ECM was damn good, but it couldn’t beat an infrared laser painting the target. No, sir—

“Here they come,” Romo said.

Dark streaks slid through the sky. They homed in on the infrared signal, and the fireworks started. Enemy beehive flechettes, autocannons, antimissile rockets: they blasted munitions that raced to meet the onrushing American cruise missiles.

GD tech was the best. The counter fire took out all but one cruise missile. That one exploded and blasted a Ritter tank, flipped the mother and took out a second one. Paul heard the tremendous clangs as the 40-ton tank smashed back onto the ground. A grass fire started, and then a GD fuel carrier exploded. That made things blaze, and smaller vehicles raced away from the mayhem.

“Not enough cruise missiles to stop the column,” Romo said. “We scratched the enemy is all.”

“We need to start thinking about using nukes,” Paul said.

From on the ground, Romo glanced at him. “That wouldn’t be too good for you or me.”

“I guess not,” Paul said.

“Your wife wouldn’t like that either.”

“No…”

“But a nuclear warhead would be more effective,” Romo said. “You are right.”

“Let’s go—”

At that moment, hisses punctured the night, and a German shout alerted Paul and Romo that they were under attack by GD commandos.

Paul slithered around the other way, and he crawled on his hands and knees. He moved faster than a man had a right to move like that. Romo was right behind him. Shots kicked up gravel, bits of dirt around him. Then something slammed against Paul and knocked him face-first onto the ground.

He grunted, and his chin slid through dirt.

Romo cursed in Spanish, surged up and grabbed Paul Kavanagh under the armpits. Paul got his feet, and he ran.

A GD bullet had put him down. American body armor had saved his sorry hide. Now the two LRSU commandos sprinted uphill.

Romo panted, and he was on the horn with a shoulder microphone. They had a helo to pick them up. It was five minutes away.

“We’ll never make it up the hill,” Paul said.

“Si. I’ll take right.”

Romo let go of Paul, and the assassin dove right. Paul dove left, and the two commandos crawled through the grass. They hadn’t made it back to the barbed wire fence yet.

Paul stopped crawling and panted on the ground. Then he slid his sniper rifle from his back. GD Humvee utility vehicles roared this way from the interstate. That was bad. Paul chambered a round, and he used his night vision scope, hunting for the enemy sniper who had put him down.

It might have been nice to use his high-tech visor and computer ballistic hardware. It gave off too much an electronic signature, at least for GD tech to pick up. This old-fashioned night scope could do the trick just fine and without giving him away.

Paul took out a sound suppressor and quickly screwed it into place. Low sound was good. Less flash was better. With his elbows on the ground, Paul searched the darkness and the weeds out there. One bigger weed moved in the wrong direction, at least for the way the breeze blew. Paul studied the weed and the area around it, and he caught a dull color. Was that a GD helmet?

Paul concentrated, aimed and squeezed the trigger as he held his breath. The rifle butt slammed against his shoulder. He watched, and there wasn’t any spume of dirt. The dull patch twitched, though. It had a hole in it, and fluid leaked out.

Backing up, moving to a different position, he heard Romo’s sound suppressor. Then he heard the assassin curse softly.

GD rounds split the air. Three enemy commandos must be firing at them.

“Romo?” Paul said softly.

His blood brother made an owl sound.

That’s all he needed. From prone on the ground, Paul kept hunting, and he grinned, although he didn’t know he did. This was his kind of warfare. He could take these Germans. He could—

“Helo,” Romo said softly. The assassin had crawled near. “It’s going to pop up and give us a barrage. Get ready, my friend.”

Paul scanned the darkness. Then he heard the stealth machine. It would be better if they were on the other side of the hill. Then they could climb aboard and leave. He didn’t like the pilot risking himself and the machine. But everyone was going the extra mile tonight. They couldn’t let Syracuse fall. Everyone had to take a chance.

Paul heard the helo. He heard missiles launch, and he saw missiles and heavy machine gun fire erupt from the GD Humvees.

“Go!” Romo shouted.

Paul got up, and he saw Romo get up from ten feet away. They raced for the helo. Kavanagh was hardly aware of bulling between two strands of barbed wire. Clothes tore, a long, bloody gash spilled blood from his arm, but he was through the fence and sprinting uphill.

That’s when a GD missile slammed into the stealth helo and an explosion tore into the night, causing lines of light to etch across the darkness.

“No!” Paul shouted. He dove, but not fast enough. The concussion shoved him into the dirt. Then metal and other debris rained around him. One piece slashed across his body armor, and Kavanagh was surprised when he took another breath.

The helo crashed into the side of the rolling hill, and another grass fire blazed. This one would outline them for sure.

“Run!” Romo shouted. “Just run! Give it everything!”

Paul knew Romo was right. He got up, but he felt surreal. Blood dripped from his forearm and his back throbbed. His ankle hurt. A bullet whizzed past his ear.

Is this how I die?

He would miss Cheri, and he would miss Mikey growing up to be a man. Damn, he wanted to hold his wife again. He wanted to kiss her and tell her how much he loved her. This sucked. He hated this. Man, he wanted to live. He—

“No,” Paul Kavanagh said. He dropped onto his belly, and he took out his sniper rifle. It took him seconds to set himself and another second to find a GD bastard. The enemy commando must have decided he didn’t need to hide anymore. He had exposed himself for a better firing position, and took a shot.

Paul didn’t flinch. He was too angry. He heard the bullet. It might even have grazed him. It was a great shot, but it wasn’t good enough. Paul’s shot was good enough, and the German commando didn’t learn why he should have stayed in his home country. The German didn’t learn because he would never learn anything ever again. He was dead, and he was missing a face because Paul’s bullet had blown it away.

Paul Kavanagh took out two more GD commandos. He gave Romo time to reach the hill. He gave Romo time to reach the dirt bikes on the hill. He even gave Romo time to start a bike.

“Good bye, friend,” Paul said to himself.

He shot the last GD commando in the neck. The Humvee enemy vehicles were halfway here, and one of the machine gunners had already started blazing with its 12.7mm.

I wonder if I can take out that bastard, too?

Paul was sick of running, and his back hurt throbbing bad. The shrapnel had done something. He might as well fight it out this last battle. Paul was in the process of sighting the lead Humvee gunner when the whine of Romo’s dirt bike penetrated his thinking.

“You’re a crazy-man, Kavanagh,” Romo shouted from the bike. “All you can think about is killing the enemy.”

If Paul were another man, he might have thought about things a few precious seconds longer. The moment he realized Romo was here on the bike, Paul jumped up in a smooth move and slammed down behind Romo. The assassin twisted the throttle. The rear tire spun, blowing out dirt and grass, and the motorcycle’s back end slewed around, aiming them back uphill. Then they shot forward, the engine revving, with bullets causing fountains of dirt to spew around them.

They beat the GD Humvee light vehicles. Romo didn’t bother stopping for Paul’s bike. They fled before enemy air came, or a missile, or whatever the invaders used to do the dirty to kill them. They knew the fight wasn’t over yet. They had survived another commando mission to fight again another time.

GDN BISMARCK

Warrant Officer Gunther Weise smoked a cigarette outside the control tower of the greatest GD supercarrier of them all, Otto von Bismarck. It displaced one hundred and thirty thousand tons, and carried nearly two hundred of the latest UAVs. Even now, a steam catapult fired another drone into the brisk ocean air. The UAV moved like a wasp, climbing into the sky to fly CAP for the giant armada.

All around him in the hazy mist and low swells, Gunther spied war vessels. The GD had seven carrier groups out here, seven supercarriers, each with their accompanying escorts. They had ten battleships altogether with the latest strategic defensive systems. Those masses—the carrier groups and the battleships—were the heart of the armada. There were more cruisers and destroyers. There were helo-carriers, endless transports, dozens of big infantry and tank carriers and giant hover landers. Then there were hundreds of smaller vessels, fuel tankers, supply vessels…

The world had never seen a fleet like this, one able to disgorge two hundred thousand foot soldiers and vast numbers of fighting vehicles onto a beach. This was the war winner for the 2040 North American invasion, and he—Gunther Weise—was a part of history in the making.

Gunther was an intel analyst, and he worked in the central situation room. He was one of the operators keeping the big screen updated with the latest intelligence. General Kaltenbrunner of Army Group D and the armada’s admiral often debated within earshot of him. Sometimes he glanced over his shoulder and saw one of them scowl or shake his head in disagreement.

Wait until my father hears about this.

His father worked in the aerospace industry in Bonn, building the latest satellites. After high school, the old man had immediately wanted Gunther to enter the industry. Gunther planned to follow his dad’s path, of course. There wasn’t a man alive he respected more. First, he wanted an experience of a lifetime. This was an exciting time to be alive. Father could see that. Yes… He supposed there was the specter of famine in the world.

Gunther shrugged, inhaling cigarette smoke. He’d been told that he was too young to understand things like famine and war. Probably his dad was right. They’d played countless board games together, and Gunther had usually lost. A man was only young once, however. This was Gunther’s time to risk and have a great and lasting experience.

The events he’d written about had impressed the older man. Gunther had heard the grudging acceptance of that in his father’s voice the last time they had talked.

Because of his technical expertise and placement, Gunther had the rare privilege of listening to high strategy in the making. He would sit at his spot near the big screen, drinking in the details as he monitored his equipment.

A door at the bottom of the control tower now opened. A bald-headed officer stepped out, with a purple birthmark shaped like a fist over his right eye. “Warrant Officer Weise!” the man shouted. “You’d better get in here. The screen is acting up, and the commander is back in the situation room.”

With his right-hand thumb and index finger, Gunther pinched the cigarette, taking a last inhalation. Then he removed the cigarette from his lips and flicked it toward the flight deck. The breeze would blow it overboard soon enough. The ashes and butt would tumble into the Atlantic Ocean. They were headed for America, toward New York City and the New Jersey shore. They were already one hundred kilometers beyond the Bahamas and moving fast.

The great event of his life was about to take place. Warrant Officer Gunther Weise strode for the control tower door. He was going to remember every detail today, so he could tell his son someday while the two of them played board games together.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna Chen felt sick, as if she was going to vomit onto the great circular conference table down here in Underground Bunker Number Five.

The President sat slumped in his chair, staring at the main screen with wide eyes. He looked ashen, and he had not spoken for a time, almost as if he’d been struck dumb by the newest sight.

I think it’s happening. This is the thing too big for us to handle and it’s crushing him. It looks as if Alan was wrong. The Cuba-based troops did exist after all.

The door to the chamber opened. Without the Marine guard announcing him, Director Max Harold strode in. Behind him followed three larger men in black suits.

Anna watched them, and she couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then it struck her. The Marine guard hadn’t announced them and those three men had holstered weapons under their suits. They came to a meeting with the President while bearing arms. Only the Marines or Secret Service were supposed to be armed down here.

Then Anna noticed the guard closing the door. He almost seemed sheepish, quite unlike any Marine she’d ever seen before.

Those three are the director’s bodyguards. What are they doing with Max down here?

The director quietly took his place at the table. Behind him, where aides sat, the three bodyguards eased onto seats. They didn’t sit back and relax. No. They began to look around, and they eyed the people.

Am I being too paranoid? Anna asked herself.

General Norton sat in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s chair today. He had been doing that ever since General Alan went to Syracuse to take over command on the ground.

Norton was medium-sized, a handsome man in his late fifties, with wavy dark hair. He must dye it. He looked like a movie star general, like a military man who could make fast and hard decisions. The funny thing was that’s exactly how he was. He didn’t have the greatest strategic breadth, but he could say yes or no when the President asked him a question.

General Norton now glanced at Max. Anna wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but the director nodded fractionally.

What’s going on here?

She remembered now that it had been Max’s idea to send General Alan to Syracuse. Max had said the country needed a firm hand to guide them in this desperate hour. For once, Max hadn’t suggested they use nuclear weapons to stop the Germans from running wild along the interstate.

What did General Norton think about using nuclear weapons? Had Max been angling for the man’s appointment as the chief military advisor down here?

“Sir,” Norton told the President. “This is one hundred percent reliable information we’re viewing.”

On the big screen, they all watched an immense GD armada steaming toward the United States. They came from Cuba, past the Bahamas and toward the New Jersey shore. Finally, it seemed as if the last piece of the puzzle was coming into place.

A high-altitude surveillance drone far out in the Atlantic Ocean gave them the imagining. Likely, the plane wouldn’t last long. While it did, the drone showed them the unbelievable extent of the GD armada. Many in here had said the Cuba-based troops were clever fakes: decoys to cause the American military to put garrison divisions along the Eastern seaboard instead of deploying them on the battlefield where the decision raged. General Alan had been the strongest proponent concerning the belief. It had been Alan’s argument that had swayed the President into letting the general move the XI Airmobile Corps from the coast and to Syracuse. Now it looked as if Alan and those who thought like him had been wrong.

The briefing officer had been showing them the extent of the infantry transports, tank carriers and amphibious landing craft. This was the real deal, and it was devastating.

The President leaned forward, putting tired elbows on the table. “They waited,” he said in a slow voice. “The Germans waited. They baited us first. We thought they were going to break through at Detroit and run crazy in Michigan and Ohio. No. That was misdirection. Then their surprise attack across Lake Ontario almost caught us flat-footed. It’s obvious now that they were going to do that. It should have been obvious they planned a greater amphibious assault on the Atlantic coast. They’re springing a giant trap on us.”

“Their maneuvering was deceptive,” General Norton said in a crisp voice. “It’s easy to see something after the event, sir. We had no real idea they had gathered enough ships in Lake Ontario to make a huge amphibious assault like they did.”

The President stared at General Norton. David didn’t nod or change expression. He just stared.

He’s weary, Anna realized. He is deep down exhausted. He thinks he caused this by letting the Germans into Quebec. Maybe he did. But what else could he have done? We wouldn’t have stopped the Chinese otherwise. I wish someone else besides me would say that to him.

“We’re using everything we have trying to stem the Lake Ontario amphibious invasion,” the President said in his listless way, with a noise whistling through his nostrils. “We pulled our troops from the coast—the few we had there. We pulled them in the hope of plugging the gap between the Allegheny Plateau and the Adirondack Mountains. Because the XI Corps is gone, the GD will land unopposed on the seaboard. With these last armies, they’ll swing the gate shut and trap our forces. It’s clear what they planned. They must have decided to do this from the beginning.”

Director Harold cleared his throat.

As if on cue, General Norton sat down.

Max rose to his feet. He touched the top of the table with his fingertips. Slowly, he surveyed the chamber.

Does he feel stronger with three bodyguards present? Has he been maneuvering for this moment? Anna still couldn’t fathom the Marine’s behavior at the door. The Presidential Guard was incorruptible, right? So why had the Marine let the director’s men in while they were wearing guns?

“Mr. President,” Max said, “this is the crisis we’ve all been dreading. It has arrived at last.”

David looked up at the Homeland Security Director. Exhaustion made the President look weak.

“We faced a grave crisis this winter,” Max said. “We faced it and overcame the challenge. This is America. We have always overcome our challenges. I believe that today is going to be no different, sir.”

“I…” David sat a little straighter, but his shoulders were still slumped. “I know what you’re going to say, Max.”

Max waited, with his face impassive.

“You’re going to tell me to launch ASBMs,” the President said.

ASBM meant Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles.

“We tried that once against the Chinese,” the President said. “We attempted to halt their Alaskan Invasion back in 2032 using ASBMs.”

David had been the Joint-Forces Commander in Alaska at the time.

“We failed to stop the Chinese eight years ago,” the President said. “Why do you think our ASBMs will do better against the more tech savvy Germans?”

Max stared David in the eyes. “Sir,” the director said in a strong, level voice. “Eight years ago, you used conventionally-armed ASBMs. I’m talking about using nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.”

“Nuclear?” the President asked in a soft voice.

“Yes, sir,” the director said. “The great crisis has arrived and we must rise to the challenge. It’s clear that we cannot move enough men into place to stop the GD forces from swarming onto New Jersey. If the Germans do that, they will have encircled a large portion of our military, cutting off—”

The director paused and glanced at the general.

“The GD will have cut off over one million men,” Norton said.

“That many?” the President asked in his strangely soft voice.

“We cannot allow the GD to land their soldiers, sir,” Max said. “I realize you have a reluctance to use nuclear weapons.”

“I… I…” the President seemed to grope for words. He seemed lost, dazed.

“I understand, sir,” Max said. His voice softened, too, almost as if he really did have compassion.

But Anna was not fooled. They planned this. Norton and the director are working together. Maybe someone bribed the Marine guards by finding out how to get to each one.

“This is a terrible moment in our history,” Max was saying. “The blows against our country have been staggering. You have staved off several grave defeats, sir. It would have drained anyone. Each time, you’ve summoned the resolve and refused to let our country’s enemies win. Unfortunately, the grim resolve needed to stave off these defeats has taken a grave toll of you, sir. I respect your service to our country. No one could have done more. However…maybe it is time for you to rest a while.”

The President blinked at Max, and a tired frown appeared on David’s face.

“Sir,” Max said. “I could order the nuclear strike for you, if you would give me the authority.”

“You would do this?” the President asked.

“We must stop them,” Max said. “We must use a number of our ICBMs while the enemy is still far enough away from our coast.”

“Uh…” General Norton said.

Max didn’t glance at the general, but he shook his head minutely.

The idea of their collusion and the possibility of corrupt Presidential Guards galvanized Anna. “Sir,” she said. “If you decide to launch nuclear weapons, I think you should give the orders and no one else.”

David moved his head on a seemingly rusty neck. He gave her a hurt look.

It stabbed her heart. He hated using nuclear weapons. It had grated on him giving such orders before, and it had caused him nightmares. Was she using him now because she didn’t like Max? Being President was a demanding job under ordinary circumstances. During war, it became much worse. Maybe the endlessly hard decision had rung David dry. Likely, no one in American history but for Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy had faced a moment like this. Costly, maybe even debilitating defeat stared them in the eyes.

Despite the hurt in her heart for him, Anna decided that she owed it to David to tell him the stakes.

“Mr. President,” Anna said.

“I think you should quit talking,” Max told her. “You’ve said enough.”

“Mr. President,” Anna said, ignoring the director.

Max made a small gesture with his left hand. The three bodyguards rose ominously from their chairs.

“You are the Commander-in-Chief,” Anna told David in a rush. “You should not relinquish your authority unless you’re willing to step down as President. Are you ready to do that, sir?”

David blinked at her.

“Ms. Chen,” Max said. “You are out of line.”

“This is the terrible crisis, sir,” Anna said. “You faced such a moment in Alaska when you fought in 2032. Do you remember that time?”

Ever so slowly, David nodded.

Max cleared his throat, and he looked angry.

Anna didn’t want to say her next words, but she forced them out of her mouth before it was too late. “Are you folding up under pressure, Mr. President? Is that’s what happening here?”

David stopped blinking, and he grew ashen.

“That is quite enough,” Max said. “In fact, I deem it as treasonous to try to break the President’s resolve at a time like this. I will not stand by and do nothing. Men,” he said, half turning to his bodyguards. “Would you please escort Ms. Chen from the chamber?”

The three big men in suits started toward her.

“Mr. President,” Anna said, speaking faster than ever. “I think you should summon your Marine guards.” If the Presidential Guards were corrupt, it was all over anyway. But if Max had barged his way past the door guard through force of will, then maybe David still had a chance.

The President watched her a moment longer. Then he seemed to notice the bodyguards advancing around the conference table. Something came over his features, a mulish stubbornness perhaps.

David Sims stood, and he rapped his knuckles against the table. “Sit down,” he told the three big men in suits.

It seemed as if they hadn’t heard or refused to hear the President.

It was then the Director of the CIA—Dr. Samuel Levin—scraped back his chair. He was Anna’s old boss, and Levin was a wizened figure, with uncombed, thick white hair jutting in disorder. He sat nearest the door to the chamber.

The bodyguards glanced at the CIA Director. With his hunched left shoulder held in its crooked way, Levin started for the door. His left foot slid a bit. Anna remembered hearing about a stroke some time back. It must have been worse than she’d realized.

The three bodyguards finally stopped. They stared at the President. Then they half turned and regarded Max.

They want a confirmation of the order, Anna realized.

Levin didn’t stop his slow walk, and his right arm reached for the door handle.

It was a pregnant moment. Would Max order the bodyguards to draw their guns? If he did, the Director of Homeland Security would have to order them to fire and kill people, if he hoped to keep his position, perhaps even keep his life.

Before Levin turned the handle, Max asked the President, “Would you like Ms. Chen to stay, sir?”

Then Levin pushed open the door, and he stared into the outer room. Something in his eyes must have awoken the Marines there. Three of them wearing white gloves and holding rifles entered the inner chamber.

“Ms. Chen stays,” the President said, with his voice strengthening.

The director’s three bodyguards weren’t stupid. Likely, they were sensitive to leadership and the sway of the wind. Maybe they could sense it like dogs. They must realize what was at stake. Either they had to draw their guns and shoot, or they’d better back down. But if they were going to draw their guns, they should have already done so. A coup took decisiveness and a whole lot of stones. To Anna’s relief, the three bodyguards headed back for their chairs.

Without a word, wizened Dr. Levin headed back to his seat.

Seemingly on their own initiative, the Marines took up station near the door, and they watched the three bodyguards sitting down.

Anna found that her hands were shaking. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Had Max just attempted a soft coup, losing his nerve right at the end? If so, this didn’t seem like the time to push the issue. They needed to meet the GD emergency right now.

“General Norton,” the President said. “What do you think? What is your recommendation?”

“Sir?” Norton asked, in a scratchy voice.

“Concerning a nuclear attack?” the President asked.

It took two blinks before the confident General Norton returned. “We have no choice but to go nuclear, sir. We must launch the ASBMs. I mean ICBMs. We must annihilate the GD armada or we’ve lost this round to the enemy. And if we lose this round, this campaign…I’m not sure we can recover to win the war.”

The chamber grew still as those present absorbed his words.

Max sat down, and he avoided looking at Anna or Levin.

She wondered what went on behind Max’s skull. The man had asked to wield Presidential authority. Did he truly aim to take over? Then why hadn’t his men drawn their guns just now? Had she misjudged the situation? Or had Dr. Levin’s act saved David’s Presidency. Was history made through such chance decisions?

“I cannot let the enemy land those troops on our shores,” the President said. “You gentlemen are right. And you’re right, Anna. It is time to take the terrible step. We’ve lurched toward nuclear war on two separate occasions. But we managed to keep it small each time. This time we have to take out everything. Yes… How many ICBMs do you suggest, General?”

“Ten of the intercontinental ballistic missiles, sir,” Norton said. “They’re MIRVed, so that will be more than enough warheads. We also want to keep enough ICBMs in reserve, sir. As you know, we don’t have as many nuclear missiles as we used to.”

“I see,” the President said.

“We should also launch as many of the ASBMs as we can,” Norton said. “They’re conventionally armed, but the GD is said to have effective missile defenses. The ASBMs can act as decoys, if nothing else. I’ve read before one of their admirals boasting of their ability to withstand a nuclear assault.”

“Can they?” the President asked, with alarm.

“No, sir,” Norton said. “Not with ten ICBMs combined with our ASBMs. We’re going to take them out, sir, every last ship that they own.”

The President took a deep breath. He had a haunted, an almost guilty stare, but he squared his shoulders.

“This is the crisis we must overcome,” David said, in a less than confident voice. He took a breath, hesitated and finally said, “Launch the ICBMs and time them to strike as the ASBMs come down on the enemy fleet.”

MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA

Colonel Larry Marks couldn’t stop blinking, as he stood frozen in the bunker. He was a lean man, and he wore a large watch on his right wrist. It was waterproof, glowed in the dark and combined intricate timing devices. His wife had bought it for him last Christmas. She had been pregnant then. Now she was at home with their new baby girl.

Colonel Marks felt as if he was going to pass out. He kept telling himself to take deep breaths. Despite those mental commands to drink air, only his eyes moved. They kept twitching from the seconds-hand ticking along its path in the watch. The very end of the hand had a tiny luminous green bulb. He stared at that and then looked at the screen before him.

I’m launching ICBMs. It’s happening. It is really happening. We’re doing it and my baby isn’t even a year old yet.

Long ago with his grandfather, Colonel Marks had watched the movie The Book of Eli. Marks had been twelve at the time, and he’d never forgotten it. In the film, Denzel Washington had called the nuclear holocaust “the Flash.”

Am I about to unleash the Flash upon the Earth?

Klaxons rang in the bunker, but this wasn’t a test. This was for real, for real, for real. It felt as if he had echoes in his mind. He couldn’t believe he was going to do this.

On screen, Marks watched base silos open. They were like giant, metallic flowers moving with robotic hearts. His human heart sped up as he watched. The silos opened in order for them to spew forth their terrible thermonuclear cargoes.

How can I be doing this? I never thought it would happen. I’m unleashing the Flash.

He knew why he was doing this. They had discussed it among themselves here in the bunker. The German Dominion sailed toward America with a dagger, meaning to plunge the knife deep in his country’s heart. There was only one thing now that could stop these Krauts.

Colonel Marks would launch ten T Mod-5s. The “T” stood for Triton, the last new ICBM America had manufactured. “Mod-5”, of course, meant this was the fifth major modification to the Triton missile type.

There were no GPS satellites these days to watch the enemy. The Air Force had launched more high-flying drones to spy on the GD fleet. The ICBMs didn’t use radar or any other guidance. That was by design. They went up, took readings from the stars for perfect navigation and dropped their warheads at a programmed point on the Earth, or out a sea for this one. They would wreak thermonuclear havoc on the GD armada.

“Sir,” the operator said.

Colonel Marks lowered his precious watch. He knew his babies. He wanted to bray with laughter. Babies—he only had one baby now, and she was at home in the crib. Each missile weighed 192,000 pounds. Most of that was solid fuel to burn his baby thousands of miles if needed. He would reach out and touch the enemy with an extremely brutal and heavy hand. He would swat them out of existence with the Flash.

The operator turned around and looked up at him. “Sir,” he said, “we have a narrow launch window.”

Colonel Marks knew that. They were timing his babies to hit along with ASBMs using regular warheads. Those ship-killers would be the decoys. Could you imagine that?

Lean Larry Marks raised his hand and chopped it down decisively. He did it thinking, I’m killing you because you went too far.

The operator relayed the physically-given command.

In the command bunker, everything soon shook, even the screen. Colonel Marks stepped up behind the operator, putting his left hand—four lean fingers and a lean thumb—on the man’s shoulder. Wide-eyed, Marks watched the screen as he tightened his grip.

I hope I haven’t doomed the Earth to centuries of Dark Ages. I hope I haven’t doomed you, little Jewel. That was the name of his baby daughter.

The first ICBM Triton roared into life. The massive death-machine rose from its silo as smoke billowed in a vast, chugging, churning cloud. Flames raged out of the back end as the Triton climbed slowly at first and then with greater speed.

Inside the bunker, Colonel Marks mentally computed the situation. The initial boost phase would last a little over three minutes. The solid fuel booster would put the missile into suborbital space flight. None of the missiles would complete a full orbital revolution around the Earth. Each missile’s flight path used a trajectory that went up and down in a relatively simple curve, well before it had a chance to orbit around the Earth like a satellite.

Despite his worries, a smirk spread across Marks’s face. Conventional ASBMs used regular warheads and Mach 10 plus kinetic energy to destroy ships. Those missiles would need great precision to kill: not so his thermonuclear-armed missiles.

The GD fleet was spread across many nautical miles of ocean. It would take more than one nuclear warhead to destroy them. As incredible as it was believe, they had launched ten ICBMs to make sure some got through the GD defenses. In truth, nothing on Earth was going to stop his babies, not the T Mod-5s.

Marks’s smirk grew. The GD ships were spread out, but not nearly far enough apart to save them from the coming destruction. The surprise of a lifetime was about to fall upon the invading armada.

I just hope the German Dominion doesn’t decide to launch their thermonuclear ICBMs at us and ignite the Flash in angry retaliation.

AUTOMATED ORBITING SENSOR, SPACE

A secret GD sensor-satellite packed in stealth sheathing was in an equatorial stationary orbit high off the coast of French Guiana. The sensor picked up the boost-phase burn of the ten Triton ICBMs leaving Minot, North Dakota.

The satellite’s onboard computer analyzed the data. In a microsecond, it came to the proper conclusion. The enemy launched ICBMs. A second later, the orbiting sensor burned through its sheathing as it aimed a communication laser. The laser speared across space to a relay station in the Mauritanian Desert, which was in western Saharan Africa.

Afterward, with the primary task completed, the sensor continued to track the lifting ICBMs, beaming all the telemetry data to the relay station.

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

The GD major on station in the Mirror Launch bunker also made a nearly instant decision. He had a single function: to negate an automated system from launching a heavy missile into space.

With hot coffee spilled on his uniform—the cup hit the wall even now, shattering. He’d been leaning back a second ago, drinking the coffee as the alarm rang and surprised him. With hot, soaking coffee beginning to scald his skin, the major nevertheless scanned the simple amount of data on his emergency screen. As he did, he had three thoughts: This is real; it isn’t a test. And those are ICBM boost-phase burns. Holy shit.

The middle thought was the important one. He saw American ICBM boost-phase burns. Therefore, he did not raise his hand and reach for a red button. Because he did not, he did not depress the switch that would shut down the launch sequence. Therefore, the automated system continued to function smoothly as designed.

Fifteen seconds later, the bunker shook, making the light overhead rattle. He thought it might explode. A heavy K-14 rocket sped for space, with massive boosters shooting long flames. The missile did not carry a warhead. This was not a retaliatory strike. The missile’s payload was a mirror, one that possessed fantastic adjusting ability. Even as the rocket roared toward the Heavens, telemetry data poured into its onboard AI, data that originated from the sensor high above French Guiana.

GDN BISMARCK

Warrant Officer Gunther Weise stared in shock at the big screen. For a moment, he forgot his duties. Many did in the central situation room aboard the supercarrier.

General Kaltenbrunner and the admiral stared silently at the screen.

“Can we intercept?” Kaltenbrunner finally managed to ask.

The admiral—a small, neat man with a white goatee and white uniform—merely smiled in his restrained way. “Matters are already proceeding for our defense, General.”

That woke up Gunther, as did a nudge in the back from the lieutenant in charge of the warrant officers.

Gunther returned to monitoring his controls. Sweat began to pool under his armpits as he realized the sick truth. The Americans had launched nuclear missiles at the fleet. Those missiles raced here even now. This was horrible. He didn’t want to die.

Once more, the lieutenant poked him in the shoulder “Keep on task, Weise. Don’t freeze. There’s a good fellow.”

Gunther licked his lips. The sweat under his armpits became worse. He swallowed, and with greater concentration, he monitored his station. A pain spiked between his eyes. He found that he stared hard at the controls. Fortunately, his training took hold, helping him to remember his tasks.

Even as he felt himself floating out of his body—it was a terrible sensation, he hated it—he readjusted for static.

“Ah, better,” Gunther heard the admiral say.

Commands soon went out, and klaxons rang with seemingly greater urgency. There was a flurry of activity in the central situation chamber. Gunther badly wanted a cigarette. He craved one, in fact. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Look at that. Death raced toward the fleet. Certainly, the Americans would first try to take out the command ship. That was the GDN Otto von Bismarck, this ship.

“One nuclear warhead could ruin everything,” General Kaltenbrunner said in his gruff voice.

“Certainly, General,” the admiral said. “Ah, look, Strategic Defense is ready, and not a moment too soon.”

“Explain what’s going on,” Kaltenbrunner said.

Gunther sneaked a glance over his shoulder. He saw the admiral point at the big screen. Gunther also looked up at the screen. It showed a strategic map of the US Atlantic seaboard, the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Western Europe and Western Africa. Red lines streaked across the US. Flashing red dots kept moving over the US and toward the fleet. Those were the enemy ICBMs.

Gunther wanted to groan. Maybe his father had been right after all. Excitement was better, and certainly safer, when gained from watching a movie. The real thing could hurt too much. Gunther had never truly believed he himself could get into danger that would maim him for life or kill him.

What was I thinking joining the Navy? In the end, father always knew best.

“What in the world is that?” Gunther whispered to himself. Fortunately, he heard the admiral explaining to General Kaltenbrunner that the blue lines that had just appeared on screen from Iceland and from Brittany were strategic-strength lasers beaming at the rapidly deployed space mirrors.

“Now we shall see how things go,” the admiral said. “Now we shall see if the Americans are any good at this.”

ATLANTIC OCEAN

The ICBM boosters had already fallen away and back to Earth. Boost phase had lasted a mere three minutes. The warheads presently sped through suborbital space and would do so for another ten minutes.

They were all presently unpowered and moved in ballistic trajectories like artillery shells. The warheads sat safely in cone-shaped reentry vehicles, grouped together on what was called a “bus.” They were hard to spot, as there was no rocket exhaust to see or other emissions to give them away. As they moved, each reentry vehicle released aluminized balloons to fool any enemy attempting to track them.

Now, however, far away in Iceland and on the continent near Brest, Brittany, strategic lasers shot their high-energy beams at the deployed GD mirrors high in Earth orbit.

The rays flashed up through the atmosphere, bounced off the precisely angled mirrors and flashed down at the speed of light at the reentry vehicles. Most of the beams missed, but one laser hit a reentry vehicle bus with its load of cones. The beam heated the mechanism to an intolerable degree, destroying the connections to the warheads and warping its structure. Soon, its role in guiding and releasing the reentry vehicles at the proper time was completely eliminated.

Now the warheads, lacking their final enabling update, would not cause a nuclear yield. They would fall in random places with massive kinetic energy, but nothing resembling the explosions they would otherwise deliver.

The silent but deadly war continued. GD automated tech battled American know-how. During the midcourse phase—and while using up tremendous amounts of energy—the strategic lasers eliminated six different reentry buses, causing sixty warheads to become simple dumb meteors, splashing down across thousands of miles of ocean.

Then that portion of the battle ended as the four surviving reentry buses took their final star readings, enabled their warheads, and released the cone-shaped reentry vehicles into the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed.

GDN BISMARCK

Warrant Officer Gunther Weise could hardly breathe. It felt as if his lung muscles had frozen or he’d forgotten how to use them. What he had just seen was incredible. He knew how difficult it was to bounce a laser off a space mirror precisely enough to hit and destroy a midcourse warhead. That GD Strategic Defense had gotten any of the US missiles surprised him. It almost made him laugh to hear the next words.

“We’re doomed,” General Kaltenbrunner told the neat little admiral with the white goatee beside him.

“Nonsense,” the admiral said. “Now it’s time for you to witness the effectiveness of my battleships. They are remarkable vessels, I assure you.”

As klaxons wailed, as the ships of the great armada continued to churn in various directions—like beetles scurrying from an overturned board—the ten battleships entered the fray.

Watching it, Gunther’s chest swelled with pride. This was why he had joined the Navy. His father was a good man, but sometimes, even fathers could be wrong.

I thought it was over. Now I realize we’re going to stop these nukes. We’re better than the Americans, far, far better than they could ever hope to be.

Gunther checked his controls. Everything was green. Everything was good. The pride in him rose even higher. He looked up at the big screen. Many of the personnel in here did likewise. The next two minutes would decide—

The fate of the world, Gunther realized. One way or another, this is history.

One part of the big screen did a zoom-in of the nearest battleship, the Blucher. The thing aimed a large targeting array into the sky. A missile launched, then another and another. They roared heavenward, carrying kinetic kill vehicles.

The missiles lofted, burning away their bottom stage. The next stage continued to accelerate them. The kinetic kill vehicles would smash against the incoming warheads. It was like shooting bullets at bullets.

On the screen, Gunther witnessed the first collision. More occurred, one, two, three, four—

“How many warheads are there?” Kaltenbrunner shouted.

“Yes, the Americans are dropping quite a few today,” the admiral admitted. “There must be ten warheads in each missile nosecone, forty targets for my battleships to destroy.”

Gunther didn’t want to hear that. Forty nuclear bombs headed for the fleet?

A minute ticked by, and Gunther sweated harder than before. Everyone in here watched the big screen. This was too much. He wished it would end. The suspense…

No, you must remember every sensation. If you live, you must describe everything to father.

“Did we get them all?” Kaltenbrunner asked.

“I’m not sure,” the admiral said, with the first hint of unease in his voice.

Then, from outside, came a tremendous, violently bright explosion.

Gunther’s jaw dropped. He watched the big screen. A vast, yellow symbol showed where a thermonuclear warhead destroyed a supercarrier and—one by one, other ship symbols winked out. In all, nineteen vessels disappeared from the screen.

Gunther sat back in shock. When was the next nuclear warhead going to ignite and destroy yet more ships?

“What about radiation?” General Kaltenbrunner asked in a loud voice. “Are we in danger from radiation poisoning?”

“Look,” the admiral said, pointing at the big screen. “That particular warhead ignited at the southern edge of the fleet. We’re steaming away from the blast. The radiation—”

“What if there are more bombs?” Kaltenbrunner shouted. “What if—” The general stopped shouting as the admiral touched his arm.

“Look at that!” Gunther shouted, as he stared at the screen.

General Kaltenbrunner, the admiral and everyone else in the chamber turned and stared at Gunther Weise. He had stood up and now pointed at the big screen. It showed a red hit, and then another and another. They came in swift succession, and they numbed Gunther. Were those more successful nuclear strikes? If so, then why were they still afloat? Why hadn’t more blinding flashes occurred?

Slowly, it dawned on Gunther that people stared at him. Few of those were friendly stares. Burning with shame, Gunther hurriedly sat down. He wished he could disappear.

“What of those?” Kaltenbrunner asked. “What do the red hits signify?”

The lieutenant poked Gunther in the shoulder. “You’re a GD sailor. Act the part, mister.”

Gunther put his hands on the controls trying to overcome the growing static.

“Is that it then?” General Kaltenbrunner asked.

Gunther didn’t know if the general meant the end of the attack or the end of the armada. Maybe the admiral didn’t know what Kaltenbrunner meant either.

“General?” the admiral asked.

“Those red splashes we’re seeing,” Kaltenbrunner said. “How many nuclear strikes can the fleet take?”

The admiral chuckled softly.

“Are you mad to laugh at a time like this?” Kaltenbrunner asked in a thick voice.

“No, no, excuse me, please,” the admiral said. “I’m relieved.”

“Talk sense,” Kaltenbrunner said, angrily. “We’ve lost ships, far too many ships.”

“General,” the admiral said. “I think I know what happened. The Americans must have also attacked with regular ASBMs.”

“What?” Kaltenbrunner asked.

“With non-nuclear ballistic missiles,” the admiral said.

“The Americans destroyed more ships?”

“Yes,” the admiral said. “I should not have chuckled. We have taken losses. Many good men and women died just now. I am relieved that the Americans failed to destroy us as a fighting force. The realization of our success—I’m afraid I laughed out of nervous relief. Please, forgive me.”

“Failed?” Kaltenbrunner asked. “They just destroyed over… How many ships did we lose?”

The admiral accepted a slip of paper from a major. The small officer glanced at it, crumpled the slip and let it drop to the deck. Then he looked up at Kaltenbrunner. “As of now, sir, we’ve lost twenty-five vessels. Two of those were carriers, and that is a terrible blow. One of the lost vessels was a battleship and one was a major troop ship. The rest were minor ships. The Americans made their great assault, General Kaltenbrunner. They made it and failed to hurt us significantly enough to halt the invasion. While I mourn the loss of twenty-five good GD vessels, I still realize that we’re about to end this campaign in glorious victory. And you are going to spearhead that victory with your ground troops. Congratulations, General Kaltenbrunner.”

The admiral held out his hand. In a bemused fashion, Kaltenbrunner took it, and the two commanders shook.

“History,” Gunther whispered to himself. I was there and I even said a word or two.

Gunther wanted to caw with laughter. He felt so relieved to be alive. He had just survived a nuclear attack against the fleet. It was the first nuclear naval attack in history, and now, they were going to make the Americans pay for attempting it.

-13- Annihilation

From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040

2040, July 16-18. Invasion New York. In Southwestern Ontario between Windsor and London, the two forces were locked in bleak, attritional warfare. The Americans used blood, artillery and extensive jamming to whittle down GD Army Group A. Holk staved off the increasingly heavy push in the south as he battered his way east into the Niagara Peninsula. US Fifth Army vainly tried to stave off Holk’s attack as Zeller’s two corps attempted to shut the door at Buffalo. It had become a wrestling match as the Fifth Army paid in blood to extricate itself out of Buffalo and fight its way south toward Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, US XI Airmobile Corps and the first smattering of Canadian troops fought savagely on the approaches to Syracuse. It proved a losing fight against GD Twelfth Army, but the American soldiers were buying their country time. Zeller asked Mansfeld for Kaisers and Leopard IV tanks in order to spearhead his assaults along the interstate.

On the high seas, General Kaltenbrunner’s GD Army Group D left Cuban ports and headed for the selected Atlantic invasion beaches of New York-New Jersey. The great trap neared completion…

SAINT CATHARINES, ONTARIO

Jake Higgins didn’t know anything about ICBMs or GD armadas. He was dirty, sore, bleeding across his left eye so he had to keep wiping it to clear of blood and he was hungry like a junkyard dog.

The enemy pounding had been going on for some time. He was in a basement with the others, with Charlie, Lee, the lieutenant and MDG Sergeant Dan Franks. There were others of the penal battalion, a pittance compared to their beginning numbers.

After the survival of no-man’s land, he and the others had retreated until they’d found the lieutenant. It had been a nightmare since then. The GD poured everything at Fifth Army, particularly the AI Kaisers and the dreaded Leopard IV tanks, together with air sweeps and missile bombardments.

They had fought their way to St. Catharines along the shore of Lake Ontario. The city burned, with oily fumes churning into the sky. Fifth Army was dying, and the penal battalions along with it.

The lieutenant had said something yesterday about those in Buffalo holding open a corridor long enough so the rest of the Fifth Army could escape the GD trap. It didn’t look as if they would be part of the escapees. This was reminding Jake more and more of Texas last summer.

As dawn rose to another brutal day, the rear guard in St. Catharines was supposed to fight its way free of the enemy and hurry for Buffalo. Yeah, that was a good joke.

Jake wiped blood out of his left eye and peered out of a basement window. A marauding Leopard tank clanked into view past piles of rubble. Behind the tank followed crouched-over GD infantrymen in their high-grade body armor.

“But sir,” Sergeant Franks was saying, “if we attack now, they’ll attack us. If they attack, they’re going to get help from the offshore artillery. They’ll demolish us down here. This will become our grave.”

The lieutenant stubbornly shook his head. “We’re fighting for our country, Sergeant. Maybe it means we’re going to die for our country, but that’s every soldier’s lot in war. Now set up the machine guns. We have to kill those infantry.”

Sergeant Franks bit his lower lip. Clearly, he didn’t like the order, but to disobey a direct command…

There wasn’t much difference now between the penal militiamen and their jailers. Everyone was in this together.

Franks bellowed and he pointed at militiamen, telling them to hurry.

Jake heaved, lifting the .50 caliber into position. Charlie helped him. Lee waited behind the weapon.

“Fire!” the lieutenant said, as he peered out his own window.

Jake glanced at the young man. There was a fanatical fire in the lieutenant’s eyes. These past days hadn’t diminished the man’s resolve, but hardened it. If he had to die fighting, so be it. The lieutenant clearly planned to kill Germans, as many as he could.

Lee pressed the butterfly triggers. The .50 caliber jackhammered its bullets at the enemy. Jake watched. The GD infantrymen had great body armor, but at this range, it meant nothing. They tumbled to the cement, some in a bloody spray.

The Leopard tank’s treads stopped churning far too fast. Its turret swiveled, the huge cannon swinging around toward their building.

“Get down!” Franks shouted.

Jake, Charlie, Lee, the lieutenant, everyone hit the tiled floor of the basement, taking their weapons with them.

A thunderous roar sounded from outside. A shell exploded inside the building on the first floor. That still had an effect down here. Masonry flew everywhere, raining in upside-down geysers. Militiamen fell as cement chunks struck them. A few disappeared, buried under rubble. Dust billowed. Militiamen choked, coughing with hacking sounds.

“Up, up, get up!” the lieutenant shouted.

From on the floor, Charlie and Jake exchanged glances. Their looks said, Is he a madman?

The lieutenant was close by and he might have seen their questioning looks. He drew his sidearm and aimed the pistol at Jake. “Lift the machine gun, Private. We have to attack. We have to hurt the invader while we can.”

“Yes, sir,” Jake said. The pistol aimed at his head didn’t bother him. Such things had happened too many times in the penal battalion. “We’ll do that exactly as you say, sir, but wouldn’t it be a whole lot better if I climbed the stairs and shot an RPG down on the tank turret? That will do more damage than bullets against the tank’s front armor.”

The lieutenant stared at him, with his eyes shining strangely. “Go!” he said. “Do it, and then get back down here.”

First wiping blood out of his left eye, Jake scrambled away from the window. Another thunderous roar from the tank heralded another HE shell. One of the reasons they fought from basements was because a tank’s cannon couldn’t depress far enough to directly fire at them. This 175mm shell blasted the floor above them. The concussion of it hurled Jake down as if someone had used a mallet. He lay on the floor panting.

How much longer can I keep doing this? He didn’t know. Part of him just wanted to lie down and quit. Yet if he did that, he would be dead or captured by the Germans. He shook his head. He was a Higgins. A Higgins never quit; he kept on fighting. Why not fight until you’re dead? Which ought to be pretty soon now.

With a groan, Jake climbed to his feet. He helped Charlie up and staggered to several RPGs. He grabbed one. Charlie grabbed another and Lee a third. Then they started for the ruin of the stairs.

“They’re going to run away on us, sir,” Sergeant Franks said.

The lieutenant didn’t even glance their way. He peered out the window. He now spoke in a loud whisper. “Put the machine gun back up,” he said. “The tank crew is thinking about it now. Let’s nail any Germans slinking behind the monster.”

Jake didn’t hear any more. He climbed over debris and made it to the first floor. If the Leopard crew decided to fire yet again, he was dead. He coughed because some of the drifting dust found its way into his throat. Then he dashed through the rubble-strewn area, heading for stairs leading higher. As he did, he wondered about running away. What did he owe those bastards down in the basement anyway? Not a whole heck of a lot, that’s for sure. But he didn’t run away. He wasn’t sure where he could run to. St. Catharines swarmed with enemy soldiers. As far as he could see, this was the end of the line.

Jake climbed broken stairs, having to climb over debris and smashed wood. He smelled smoke. He listened to bombardments, chattering machine guns and the clack of tracked vehicles coming up. This war was never going to end. The world would fight it out in North America until they were all down to the level of savages. It was a new Ice Age. Maybe this would bring about the death of the Industrial World. Maybe this war was mass suicide of the human race.

The building shook. Bricks fell, striking the floor and bouncing crazily. The crackle of flames from somewhere near threatened to turn the place into an inferno. From below, heavy machine guns rattled endlessly, and the clang and clack of .50 caliber bullets bouncing off heavier armor told its own tale.

The three of them raced to a window. Enemy gunfire drove them back as the walls around the window sprayed cement and chalky dust.

“Now what are we going to do?” Charlie shouted.

Jake wondered about that. As he did, a salvo of HE shells hit the base of the building. Everything shook more than ever. Jake expected the floor to open up and swallow him.

“We’re going to die,” Lee said in a calm voice.

Jake looked at him. Corporal Lee gazed back.

“What the heck,” Jake said. He readied his RPG and raced back to a window. Lee took the other window. Jake aimed the RPG down, aimed at the top of the nearest Leopard turret. There were two tanks there now. He fired, and the shaped-charge grenade flew down. Jake stumbled back as a bullet slammed against his chest. That caused him to fall backward, hitting his helmet against furniture. An explosion came from below, bewildering him.

Jake might have passed out. The next thing he knew Charlie was dragging him. The potato-grower was weeping.

“Is there something wrong?” Jake asked.

“Lee’s dead,” Charlie said.

Jake wiped blood out of his eye. He climbed to his feet and his head throbbed. His chest hurt too. He felt the front of his body armor over his heart and the size of the depression there. He was lucky to be alive.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Amid the bombardments, amid the crash of shells and bullets and the sway of the rooms, they made it back into the smoky basement. The other tank had gone away, and so had the rest of the GD teams. Only one militiaman lived down here. He was propped in a corner as he bled to death.

Jake and Charlie hurried across the rubble to him to see if they can help the man.

It turned out to be one of the MDG Sergeants. The sergeant grabbed Jake’s arm and held on with a fierce grip. “You bastards killed one of the tanks, but Franks killed the lieutenant.”

“What?” Jake asked.

“The lieutenant wanted Franks to keep firing but Franks chickened out. So he drew his gun and blew out the lieutenant’s brains. He took off, Higgins. You listen to me. You kill that filthy traitor, Dan Franks. You punish him for running away in the face of the enemy. You…”

The sergeant’s grip failed. His hand dropped away and his head slumped to the side. The MDG was dead, his eyes glazed.

Charlie swept his hands over the eyelids. Jake got up and went to the lieutenant. The young man was very dead, with the front of his head blown away. Jake checked the back. He’d seen enough death to know now. Someone had put a pistol there and fired. He could see powder burns.

“What do we do?” Charlie asked. “Everyone is dead.”

Jake stood. He turned to Charlie. Then he picked up his M16 and headed for the way out. They had to escape this deathtrap and reach Buffalo before the GD closed the door on what was left of Fifth Army.

He knew what he was going to do. “Franks,” Jake whispered, and then he didn’t say anything more.

WASHINGTON, DC

When General Norton hurled his hat across the room and swore fierce profanities, Anna understood that the combined ICBM-ASBM attack had failed to stop the invasion.

Director Harold scowled, staring at Norton. Finally, the director lifted both of his fists and slammed them against the table.

The President slumped deeper into his chair. His eyes became staring and hollow. It was a ghastly transformation. Anna would have preferred him to swear like Norton and show anger like Max.

“We need to use more ICBMs,” Max said. “One thermonuclear warhead got through. If we saturate bomb them this time—”

“Look!” Norton said in a grim voice. “The enemy fleet is beginning to spread out. They’re preparing for us to strike again.”

“Then we must strike again now, immediately,” Max said. “We must hit them before they disperse.”

“With all due respect, Director, I don’t think so,” Norton said. “They have space mirrors in place, operational mirrors. ICBMs are much easier to destroy during boost phase when they are full of fuel. With the mirrors, they’ll be able to reach down into the central US to do that. No. I don’t think we can—”

“Destroy the mirrors!” Max shouted. “Let’s use our strategic lasers against them.”

“Have you studied the angle?” Norton asked. “The GD mirrors aren’t close enough.”

“Then how can lasers bounce off the mirrors and hit our ICBMs during boost phase?”

“It should be obvious,” Norton said. “As the ICBMs lift upward, they pass the angle of the Earth and come into the mirrors’ line-of-sight.”

Max shook his head. “That can’t be it. We can’t have failed in this.”

“I agree with you there,” Norton told him. “The fight is far from over. We will entrain troops to New Jersey—”

“No!” Max said. “We must stop the fleet. We cannot let the enemy soldiers land and complete the encirclement of the First Front.”

Anna was frowning. There was something in the back of her mind. There was something else…

“Mr. President,” Max said. “I suggest another nuclear strike.”

David slowly looked up.

Anna shuddered. She hated the hopelessness she saw on his face. Then she saw something else appear. It began in the President’s eyes. The hollowness remained. He was very tired. But something other than despair shined out of him. It began as a light. She couldn’t think of any other way to express it. The light shined from his eyes. That melted the hopelessness. Then it etched lines in his face so he became like a grinning skull, one vitally alive with unholy power.

The President made a dry sound like one of the undead laughing. His lips peeled back, and like the Homeland Security Director a moment ago, he curled the fingers of his right hand into a fist. He slammed that fist against the table. He hit the surface hard.

Anna wondered if he’d broken bones. She had watched a nature show once that showed a polar bear sneaking up on a seal. The huge beast had used infinite patience. As it reached the nearest piece of ice to the seal, the bear rose up to charge. As the polar bear first charged, however, one of its hind paws slipped. That gave the seal just enough of a margin to slither to its ice hole and dive away into safety. The polar bear went berserk, and it hammered its forepaws against the ice in rage. Then the bear charged the cameramen and they shot the beast in self-defense. The interesting moment came later. The nature people discovered that every bone in the bear’s right forepaw had been broken by smashing it against the ice.

Would David now break bones in his fist? He’d hit the table hard enough.

“I have it!” the President exclaimed.

“Sir?” Max asked.

“The ICBMs failed,” the President said. “Now it’s time to see if the THOR missiles can achieve a miracle.”

Max and Norton exchanged glances. The general shrugged.

“THOR missiles?” Max asked the President. “Ah, are you sure they’re… ah…?”

“Get General Alan on the line,” the President said. “It’s time to put those experimental weapons to the test.”

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

Colonel Foxx of the Experimental C and C Station of the X-THOR missiles sat at his terminal. He used a touch screen. Along with others of the team, he hurriedly designed an attack sequence against the approaching GD armada.

They had communications problems to overcome. Several of the THOR bundles or satellites presently orbited on the other side of the world. They could use a submarine, several of them, actually, as relay stations to send the attack commands. Hmm…yes. That could work, especially if they launched several high-flying drones to extend line-of-sight reach.

Others in the control room worked on the timing of the various attacks. They figured out the angle of the attacks and the distance of the THOR package at the instant of release so they would all come in at once while converging from different areas over the Earth.

Colonel Foxx believed in his missiles and he and his team worked feverishly. It just might work, but to coordinate the THORs in a mass attack on so short a notice—

He sat up, swiveled around and picked up a secure phone. In seconds, he spoke to General Alan in Syracuse, New York.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna watched as the President had a phone against his ear. They were still in the underground bunker.

David spoke with General Alan. “I see,” the President said. “Yes, thank you. I’ll let you know my decision about— Yes, I understand the need for haste. Give me five minutes, General, and I’ll let you know for certain.”

The President set down the phone and faced those assembled. “General Alan says it will be a close-run attack. The THORs won’t be ready to strike en mass until the enemy armada is a mere one hundred miles from the coast.”

“Sir,” Norton said. “If these THOR missiles work, or work even half as good as we expect, we should hit the enemy fleet with all the air we can summon. We must be ready to exploit any victory we achieve by swarming the enemy with cruise missiles.”

“Yes, yes,” the President said, nodding. “That’s wise advice. Make it happen, General.”

Norton picked up a phone.

“I have a question, sir,” Max said.

The President nodded.

“Won’t the enemy lasers be able to destroy the THOR platforms?” Max asked.

“Yes, possibly,” the President said. “But we must try.”

“I totally agree, sir,” Max said. “But to give the THORs a greater chance of getting through, I suggest you give the GD more targets to shoot at. Preferably, give the GD decoys, plenty of them to fire at first.”

“What decoys?” the President asked. “I’m not aware we have space-based decoys.”

“I’m referring to more ICBMs,” Max said. “Launch another assault.”

“Just a minute,” Norton said into the phone. He lowered it and covered the speaker with his hand. Then he told Max, “The Germans will shoot down the ICBMs during boost phase. That won’t help the THORs, but it will cost us many nuclear missiles.”

“I’m talking about keeping the GD Strategic Defense occupied,” Max said. “If they can beam the missiles during boost phase…” The director grinned mirthlessly. “Launch one ICBM at a time. That will confuse them as to what we’re doing, and it should keep them watching the wrong place.”

“That’s crafty,” the President said. “Yes, I like it. We’ll use deception on them as they’ve been using it on us.” He scanned those around the table. “Are there any other suggestions?”

He’s getting his confidence back, Anna realized. He’s putting his faith in the THOR missiles. I hope for all our sakes they work.

“Very well,” the President said. He picked up the phone. “General Alan…”

GDN BISMARCK

Warrant Officer Gunther Weise stood outside the air tower. Every time he raised his right hand to take the cigarette, it shook the slightest bit. The nicotine in the cigarette wasn’t soothing him as it usually did.

He didn’t see as many ships now. They sailed farther apart, but they would converge soon as they hit the enemy coast. Before, that had seemed like an adventure. Now, he was worried about what the Americans would try next. Clearly, they would do whatever they could to try to stop the amphibious invasion.

The big ship moved through a rougher sea. Dark clouds gathered in the east. Would it rain? He hoped it would rain. Yet he wanted to see the sun shine.

Gunther inhaled cigarette smoke into his lungs, and he shuddered. The Americans had launched ICBMs at the fleet. He couldn’t believe—

The bottom door in the air control tower opened. The same officer as before stuck out his bald head. “Warrant Officer Weise! You’d better hurry in here. The Americans are launching more ICBMs.”

The cigarette dropped out of Gunther’s mouth. His stomach twisted. They’re doing it again? No. That isn’t right. We already survived one nuclear attack. They can’t do it again.

Then he broke into a sprint. The great danger wasn’t over yet.

NEW YORK STATE

In the cloudy sky, Lieutenant Penner of the Canadian Air Force leveled his F-35 into position. A US fuel tanker maneuvered its winged boom toward the intake near his cockpit. He could see the boom operator through the two-inch-thick window in the tail.

Penner had more than just his wingman with him today. American Command gathered its last air assets to strike the invasion fleet heading for New Jersey. Penner and the others of this squadron carried antiship cruise missiles. They gathered because soon the remains of the Allied air forces in this region would fly out into the Atlantic Ocean.

According to intelligence, the Germans steamed this way with five supercarriers and their accompanying UAVs, not to mention far too many missile-equipped escorts.

We’re going to be badly outnumbered today. Thinking about it, Penner gripped his controls more tightly. I wonder how many of us will make it through to strike the enemy? I wonder how many of us will return home?

There had been talk about a coordinated strike. America had used ICBMs on the enemy, but High Command still needed the Air Force to finish the German fleet. That meant the ICBMs hadn’t worked well enough, and that troubled Penner. Just how good was the GD Fleet air?

Penner did more than fly planes; he studied them. He knew the history of air warfare. He hoped they weren’t doing what had happened to the Japanese in 1944. In the Central Pacific, the Japanese had hoped to destroy the American Pacific Fleet. To that end, they began Operation A-Go. They had hoped to lure the Americans into an air trap. On June 15 off the Marianas Islands, the Japanese airmen got their chance. Admiral Ozawa kept his carriers far from the American flattops. He then sent his air fleet at the enemy on a long distance flight. He sent 200 airplanes altogether. The American radar spotted them coming, and the US commander sent the heavy Hellcats to meet the Japanese. The Zeros, the Kates and the Vals fell prey to the Hellcats. In the end, the Americans fighters knocked out all but thirty Japanese planes. Afterward, the American airmen had dubbed the battle, “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” It was a rude comment, but accurate enough.

I hope we’re not flying to an Atlantic Turkey Shoot.

The trick would be in coordinating the various strikes. Lieutenant Penner didn’t realize it, but he was far more right than he knew.

GDN BISMARCK

Warrant Officer Gunther Weise was seeing it on the big screen, but he could hardly believe it.

Maybe General Kaltenbrunner felt the same way. “Are you sure we’re receiving accurate information?” he asked the admiral.

“Yes, General,” the admiral said.

“Why are the Americans launching their ICBMs one at a time?” Kaltenbrunner asked.

“It is odd, isn’t it?” the admiral said.

After first checking his station controls, Gunther looked up at the big screen. Nothing would ever be the same for him now. He had survived a nuclear attack. That was amazing on several fronts. It had cleared away the cobwebs of his thoughts. Once his enlistment was up, he would leave the Navy and never reenlist. Adventures were best read in books or watched on the movie screen. Living them was much too harrowing.

Gunther watched another red dot lift from the middle of North America. It blinked, and he could almost feel the tremendous flames pouring from the missile, pushing it into space. Before a minute passed, a blue line reached up from Iceland or near Brest, Brittany, bounced off a space mirror and destroyed the lofting missile. Several minutes later and almost as if on cue, the Americans launched another ICBM. It didn’t make any kind of sense for them to do that. Didn’t they know how useless it was? They were throwing away their nuclear missiles.

“Surely they realize the uselessness of what they’re doing,” Kaltenbrunner said.

Gunther raised his eyebrows. He and the general thought alike. It made him wonder if he could have been the general. It didn’t seem that hard, standing there and observing the same things a warrant officer did.

The admiral tapped a finger against his goatee. “Their actions do give one pause. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if they’re actually trying to focus our attention there. If so: why? That’s the question.”

“Look there,” Kaltenbrunner said, pointing. “Are they trying to disguise the fact of their gathering air fleet?”

The admiral studied the screen in silence. He had dark eyes, and they seemed penetrating with intelligence.

“The Americans must destroy us,” the admiral said shortly. “We know that, yes?”

“It’s obvious,” Kaltenbrunner said.

“The fleet has deployed against submarines,” the admiral said. “The Americans don’t have many left, and my understanding is that most are in the Pacific. They attempt to halt the flow of Chinese weapons and reinforcements. We’re lofting the UAVs to annihilate this paltry force of US air. The American ICBMs are more pathetic than dangerous, at least at this point. Is it possible or even reasonable that the Americans have another trick up their sleeve?”

“What kind of trick?” Kaltenbrunner asked.

“Yes, that is an interesting question to ask,” the admiral said. “My first supposition is they’re trying to work a submarine or two near us with nuclear torpedoes. We’re hunting for subs and have found nothing. Hmm, what do the facts tell us?”

“I’m not sure I understand your question,” Kaltenbrunner said.

“Maybe the ICBMs should give us greater pause,” the admiral said.

“How so?” asked Kaltenbrunner.

“Why would the Americans launch them one at a time? Why not launch them all at once?”

“Couldn’t they saturate our space lasers if they went all at once?” Kaltenbrunner asked. “I mean make it impossible for our lasers to destroy them all in time?”

“That seems doubtful. Boost phase is the best time to destroy enemy missiles. They almost seem to be sacrificing the missiles to us.”

“Why would they do that?” Kaltenbrunner asked.

“There is only one possibility,” the admiral said. “They’re sacrificing ICBMs in order to keep the mirrors and the strategic lasers busy.”

“That would indicate the Americans possess another space weapon,” Kaltenbrunner said.

Gunther turned around in time to see the admiral stare in wonder at the general. The small man clapped his hands, and he strode to a communications officer.

“Put me through to Space Defense Command,” the admiral said crisply. This is an emergency priority message…”

LOW EARTH ORBIT

Fifteen minutes ago, THOR Launch Vehicle #3 used cold gas propulsion to deorbit into attack position. A regular rocket exhaust would have created a bright plume—a beacon—for the enemy to see. Instead, the stealth satellite maneuvered with a minimum signature.

Maximum penetration of hardened targets such as missile silos or underground bunkers would have demanded a nearly vertical attack from space. Ships were another matter, something much more easily penetrated than the other two types of targets. The THOR missiles could therefore attack at a much shallower angle. It meant the different stealth satellites could converge more easily from a variety of places around the globe. Major Foxx had calculated—or the targeting computers and his team had—the various THOR satellite locations and their estimated launch positions relative to each other.

THOR Launch Vehicle #3 had now reached its location. At the same time around the globe, other launch vehicles reached their places.

Data flowed into the launch vehicle from high-flying drones and over the horizon radar. The satellite’s computer relayed the targeting intelligence to the individual missiles, giving them their priority objectives.

Miniaturized onboard computers went about their tasks with high speed. The #3 Launch Vehicle burst apart. Sleek tungsten rods—fifty of them—separated from each other like sluggish wasps. Gravity tugged at the missiles and they sped Earthward, on their way.

The remains of THOR Launch Vehicle #3 didn’t know that nine other vehicles did likewise. Nor did the computer-run machine have any idea that a GD sensor finally found it. Seconds later, a laser generated in Iceland speared the empty launch vehicle, destroying it.

Meanwhile, the fifty tungsten rods of the destroyed satellite began their race into Earth’s atmosphere. They sped at the fleet heading for New Jersey.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

Lieutenant Penner flew in the second wave of the great air assault upon the approaching GD armada. The first wave of fighters and V-10 drones engaged GD carrier UAVs, swarms of them.

“This is going to be tough,” Penner’s wingman said.

Penner silently agreed. Look at the number of enemy UAVs, a flock of them or a swarm of bees on the hunt. Missiles fired, four of them.

He released chaff.

US Command didn’t have many options now. To win, they had to destroy the armada. If they burned up the Air Force to kill the ships, it would be worth it. Penner didn’t want to sacrifice his life, but they had to kill the GD armada.

He had thoughts about aborting the mission. He didn’t want to ide. But he was a Canadian officer. He would go down fighting if that’s what it took.

Lieutenant Penner, in his helmet with its dark visor, looked around at the clouds. This was a beautiful day. Maybe, likely, it would be his last day. Under his dark visor, he smiled. It was beautiful today, and it hurt to think that in less than an hour he would be dead, fish food in the great Atlantic Ocean.

Trying to fortify his resolve, Lieutenant Penner and the airmen of the squadron continued to bore in toward the approaching armada and its swarms of UAVs.

GDN BISMARCK

“It’s truly working,” the admiral said, with awe in his voice. “We’re killing their air force just as General Mansfeld predicted we would do.” He turned to Kaltenbrunner. “Mansfeld predicted the Americans would become panicked at the sight of my fleet. He said the Americans would hurl the last of their air against us, thereby aiding our conquest. I tell you, sir, for a landlubber, the man is a genius.”

General Kaltenbrunner grunted a noncommittal response.

At his station near the big screen, Gunther Weise’s hands had finally stopped shaking. He had settled down from the nuclear attack. It had taken long enough.

The Americans no longer launched ICBMs from North Dakota. Whatever their reason had been for launching, it was gone. Maybe it was as the admiral said. The enemy had panicked. The armada’s CAP chewed apart the American air heading out here to fight. Even now, the main amphibious landing craft and helo-carriers gathered to make their initial approach to the New Jersey shore. The Americans would have been wiser to hold their air back for later.

Gunther looked up at the big screen. He frowned. What is that? Does anyone else see this? For a moment, a red enemy appeared in space as if out of nowhere. Then a laser from Iceland destroyed the object.

“Strange,” the admiral said.

With a twist of his head, Gunther saw that the admiral watched the same thing he had.

“What is that?” the admiral asked.

“Sir,” a major asked.

“That,” the admiral said, pointing. “What is that? Where did it come from?”

Gunther’s head swayed back. He noticed something new: a streak on the big screen. It was purple, not red. Purple meant the computer hadn’t registered the thing as dangerous, but as an unknown object, as possibly threating.

“Look,” the admiral said. “There’s another one.”

General Kaltenbrunner swore in a harsh voice.

Gunther sat back in his seat, startled and suddenly uneasy. A blizzard of purple objects appeared on the big screen. His mouth dried out, and he glanced around. Didn’t anyone have any idea what those streaks represented?

LOW EARTH ORBIT

A twenty-pound tungsten THOR missile—one of fifty just like it—began its descent into the atmosphere. At the start of its rapid fall, the missile had an ablative nose tip.

As the rod plunged down through the atmosphere at meteor speeds, heating up by friction, the ablative nose tip wore away until finally it was gone. It had done its job as a mini-heat shield. Instead of a blunt nose or even a rounded one showing, the THOR missile had a sharp point and an arrow-like design. It sliced through the increasingly dense atmosphere, losing only a fraction of its terrific velocity.

Despite the intense heat, the internal guts of the tungsten rod began to work. At two miles above the Atlantic Ocean, the nose cap popped off. That exposed the sensors. They were high-grade and rugged, and this particular missile spotted the GDN Otto von Bismarck supercarrier, its priority-one target. Small flanges at the rear of the rod steered the projectile, adjusting as the supercarrier churned through the sea.

At twenty pounds, the tungsten rod was less than an inch in diameter and four feet long. A luminous trail appeared behind it, as straight as a line.

Traveling at the incredible velocity, the THOR missile neared its target.

GDN BISMARCK

Warrant Officer Gunther Weise’s hands had begun shaking again. Fear boiled in his stomach, and the approaching disaster angered him as terribly unfair.

Gunther had no idea how this wretched turn of events had occurred. By the startled and grim looks on their faces, the admiral and general didn’t know how or why this terrible thing was happening, either.

In some diabolical fashion, the Americans attacked them from space. It was a science fiction assault. The enemy shouldn’t have been able to deploy or use such a weapons system. The German Dominion was superior in every way to the has-been Americans. Once, the US had stridden across the globe, the strongest power on Earth. But that day had long passed. This was a new era. German might had been reborn through the Dominion.

“How…?” General Kaltenbrunner asked in a hoarse voice. “How was this even possible?”

The admiral shook his head.

Gunther Wiese sat at his station. His stomach knotted horribly with pain. He couldn’t take his eyes off the big screen.

Then the THOR missile struck the supercarrier, a molten, glowing-orange meteor that punched through metal as if it was paper. Incredibly, it smashed through the air control tower first, burning antennae. It sliced down through deck after deck of the great ocean-going vessel. Lastly, the missile tore a hole out of the bottom of the carrier. Meanwhile, fuel storage tanks blew. Friction caused munitions to explode with tremendous force, causing the entire vessel to shudder horribly.

Gunther was already dead, with a piece of hot shrapnel sticking out of his skull. The admiral no longer possessed a head as blood jetted out of his neck. His uniform was no longer white. General Kaltenbrunner bellowed in agony before blood loss rendered him unconscious, and his big frame slumped onto the burning floor.

As the great pride and joy of the German Dominion Armada began to sink below the surface, the rest of the THOR missiles likewise smashed through other carriers, into battleships, cruisers, infantry transports, hovers, against every major ship in the fleet.

Ships blew up. Ships sank. A few limped along with brutal damage. It happened so fast, too, as if Heaven had rained vengeance upon them. Then the attack from space ended, with nothing but hundreds of luminous trails in the sky.

ATLANTIC OCEAN

“Are you seeing this?” Lieutenant Penner shouted.

On his screen, beamed from an American AWACS, Penner watched the greatest air reversal in history. He didn’t know yet that it was part of the greatest sea reversal in history, a bigger upset than the Battle of Midway.

One moment, US fighters died to swarming GD drones. The F-35s and V-10s battled gamely, but there were outmatched by numbers and by better technology.

Now, the GD drones simply stopped firing. The drones ceased launching missiles, shooting shells; they stopped doing anything as they flew straight. Some went down into the rough swells. Others traveled east. More flew to the west. If Penner didn’t know better, he would say that the drone operators had all at once ceased to exist. Yet how could that happen? It did not make any sense.

“What’s going on?” Penner asked his wingman.

“I don’t have any idea, sir,”

Then an air controller began to explain it to them. The THOR missiles had just taken out the majority of the GD invasion fleet.

“Say again,” Penner said.

He listened as the air control officer explained it. THOR missiles, what in the world were those.

As Penner wondered, he noticed that the US fighters amongst all those GD air began to shoot down the enemy planes.

This is turning into a turkey shoot, he realized.

Penner laughed. It felt wonderful to be alive. Then he sobered up. He still had a task to do, and maybe now he would be able to accomplish it.

It was time for the air force to destroy whatever was left of the enemy ships out there.

The air traffic controller told them to concentrate on GD infantry and ground-vehicle transports.

Penner nodded. That’s exactly what he planned to do.

TORONTO, ONTARIO

General Mansfeld stood in a hushed operational chamber. Screens lined the walls, with technicians seated below them. His staff officers stood as a group, silent and staring. They had been doing both for the past few minutes.

Mansfeld stared at a screen in disbelief. He found it hard to comprehend what he saw. His eyes were fine. His brain worked to full capacity, but the switch from conquering brilliance to catastrophic defeat left a bitter taste in his mouth and a cold black hole in his thinking.

The luminous trails from space had already dissipated. The Americans had found a way to harness meteors. It was amazingly brilliant and cleverly done, and it had just annihilated his chances of ending the campaign in a crushing German victory.

On the screen Mansfeld watched yet another enemy cruise missile. The sleek thing skimmed over the waves.

It’s going to hit a troop transport. I can’t afford that.

True to the prediction, the missile stuck and blasted a surviving troop transport at the waterline. The transport began to list. Mansfeld watched as panicked sailors and infantrymen jumped overboard into the sea.

That’s the wrong thing to do. You must keep your head. That was the only way to survive a disaster.

Another cruise missile skimmed the sea. It destroyed a hover-carrier holding a large number of Sigrid drones.

A disaster, this is a disaster. The Americans have broken the closing jaw. I cannot believe this.

A hard knot of anger washed through General Mansfeld. This technologically advanced blow could ruin his hard-won reputation. Historians would pen down that he had miscalculated. Instead of a great victor—the greatest of modern times with far-seeing vision and—

“No,” Mansfeld said. He turned to stride away into his study, but he realized he needed to rally his command staff.

Clearing his throat, Mansfeld said, “The Americans have done well. It would be petty to say they haven’t. But this will not save them. Nothing came save them from their coming dismemberment.”

“General?” one of the staff members asked. “How…what will we do now?”

Mansfeld forced heartiness into a mocking laugh. “Why, we will close the trap, Colonel.”

“But we needed those ships. We needed those soldiers.”

“Oh,” Mansfeld said. “I admit this will make things more difficult, to be sure. But the Americans have already shown us their panic by using the ICBMs.”

“Maybe we should use some of ours on them, sir,” the staff officer said.

Yes, maybe we should at that. I will have to contemplate the possibility. Who expected space weapons from the Americans? They abandoned space long ago.

“We badly needed those troops, sir,” the staff officer said.

“Yes,” Mansfeld agreed. The man spoke truth. It was always good to see the truth, no matter how harsh it was.

“You will instruct whatever ships survived the disaster to head out to sea,” Mansfeld said. “Get away from the American air. Afterward, we’re going to swing the troop transports around and bring them down the Saint Lawrence into Quebec.”

The staff officers gazed at him like dumb bovines. The nearest had glazed eyes and a slack mouth, looking as if he’d been hypnotized. It was clear they couldn’t perceive just yet. They let a disaster shake them. But disasters happened to everyone, even to geniuses of war. He would recover from this and find his victory that much more gratifying. Enough of that, though. He needed to galvanize these men.

“We must salvage what we can from this,” Mansfeld said. “A single defeat does not a war lose. We have the enemy on the run, gentlemen. This would have been the deathblow, to land Kaltenbrunner’s soldiers in New Jersey and New York. Now we’re going to have to finish this the conventional way. We’ll trap the US Fifth Army in the Niagara Peninsula and, and…”

“Will a reduced Twelfth Army be able to break through Syracuse, sir?” the staff officer asked. “Can the Twelfth Army smash through Albany and race to New York City, all while keeping the line intact and sealing the enemy in our trap?”

“I’m well aware of the odds,” Mansfeld said. “We need reinforcements across Lake Ontario. That’s why we’re swinging the surviving transports wide east and then to the Saint Lawrence. We’ll use those troops in New York yet.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” the staff officer said. “But maybe we should consider pulling out of New York State. Maybe we should cut our losses before the Americans—”

Mansfeld strode to the defeatist staff officer. Normally, the man was a brilliant colonel of logistics, a real go-getter.

In a cold voice, Mansfeld said, “You are dismissed and relieved of your position.”

“Sir?” the staff officer asked.

“I will not countenance defeatist talk,” Mansfeld told him. “What you gentlemen have witnessed is a single American success. They will not get any more. I will personally see to that. Therefore, I will not tolerate even a hint of a defeatist speculation. We have the enemy on the run. That is the time to ride him down and stick a spear in his side.”

We’re on the tiger, and you cannot stop such a monster and climb off. No, we must stay on until the very end. There is no turning back for any of us, especially not for me.

The staff colonel must have seen something in the general’s eyes. He did not argue. Instead, he saluted crisply, turned and marched out of the operational chamber.

“What about the rest of you?” Mansfeld asked. “Is there anyone else who wishes to spout defeatist talk?”

The staff officers shook their heads.

“Very well,” Mansfeld said. “Carry on and make sure you get the surviving transports headed east first and then north to the mouth of the Saint Lawrence. We’re going to need all the troops we can…gather.”

He almost said, “Scrape together.” That would have sounded wrong. This was a time for confidence. This was not a time to panic and to lose one’s head.

General Mansfeld strode for the door to his inner office. What am I going to do? This is a disaster. What will the Chancellor say?

Mansfeld didn’t bother shaking his head. The Chancellor might panic. Well, he would cross that bridge when the time came. Right now, he had to push the attack on Syracuse and the Niagara Peninsula. The Americans must be congratulating each other right now. He would give them something to worry about, and then he would give them a surprise that would wipe away this bitter sea defeat.

-14- Operation Narva

USS KIOWA

“Captain,” First Mate Sulu said. “Captain, wake up. They’re here.”

Darius Green lifted his head off his arms. He’d fallen asleep while on watch. He could not believe it. He rubbed sore eyes and eased crossed arms off the command panel. He’d had a dream that he had been with the Prophet in a cavalry charge across a desert. It had been glorious. On a giant warhorse, Darius had ridden beside the Prophet. Their cloaks had billowed in a dark desert breeze as they shouted a war cry, with their scimitars flashing in the moonlight. Ah, that would have been an adventure. This sulking underwater as the two of them sought freighters and ore haulers to sink…

“What did you say?” Darius asked.

“They’re outside, Captain,” Sulu said. “They’ve brought us more Javelins.”

In the red-lit interior of the submersible, Darius grinned. He had spent the past few days hunting enemy ships, sending them to the bottom either with a single or with two Javelin missiles. Many of the stolen freighters and ore haulers sailed in convoys with hovercraft or fast attack boats accompanying them. Those, Darius left alone. He went after the single ships, the stragglers of the pack.

So far, he and Sulu had sunk four ships with ten missiles. Some vessels had escaped wounded. That was because Sulu would spot approaching UAVs speeding toward them. Too many times, they had cut off the attack to dive out of danger and escape for another try.

Lake Ontario was a German sea, but Sulu and he were doing their part to whittle away at the enemy. SEALs in a rubber dinghy had come from the northern end of Lake Ontario, which was still under American control. The commandos brought them more Javelin missiles.

Darius drank a cup of water. The submersible was getting low on fuel, but he would make one more run before they might have to scuttle the craft. This time, using the knowledge he’d gained these past days, Darius planned to sink five ships with these missiles.

He stood, shook his arms and headed for the ladder.

INTERSTATE 90, NEW YORK

Walther Mansfeld gazed at the assembled colonels and generals of Twelfth Army. He stood behind a lectern placed on a stack of hay bales two high. Instead of twine, wire circled the bales. He could see the twist—almost a knot—that joined a wire together. Had a farmer used a pair of pliers to do that?

They were in a large American barn along Interstate 90. Fifteen kilometers away lay Greater Syracuse, the gateway to his dreams. V Corps of Twelfth Army had already fought halfway into the city, with other corps flanking Syracuse. The Americans had become uncommonly stubborn lately. It was one of the reasons for the meeting. The gathered officers sat in chairs before him. Techs had put up a screen behind his back.

The American space attack had changed much, but not everything. Five hours ago, Mansfeld had spoken to Chancellor Kleist via video teleconference. The talk had gone poorly. Kleist feared the worst, and the man had actually threatened him. Maybe such things would have wilted another commander. It hadn’t wilted Mansfeld. He saw his way clear of the supposed disaster. In a way, the space attack calmed him. He’d seen the best America could do. It had hurt him, but it hadn’t wrecked the campaign. It was still his to win. Via closely argued logic, he had shown Kleist the truth of that. Grudgingly, and because he had the capacity to understand, the Chancellor had seen reason.

I will still gain a great victory for Greater Germany. This is my hour, and these men will achieve the seemingly impossible—if they follow my instructions to the letter.

Mansfeld cleared his throat.

The officers quit talking among themselves, looking up at him.

“Gentlemen,” Mansfeld said, “we are gathered here today to discuss Operation Narva. The failed attempt of General Kaltenbrunner to land at New Jersey has undoubtedly caused consternation among some of you. Clearly, the failed amphibious assault is a setback, but it is nothing more than that. It has, I believe, eliminated our margins for error. You gentlemen must now practice a flawless attack and exploitation afterward. If you do so, the campaign will end gloriously, showing the world a stunning example of European and particularly German arms.

“Before I proceed, I believe a short history lesson is in order. It is the reason why I have chosen ‘Narva’ as the operational name.

“In the old days during the era of kings, there was a man named Peter the Great of Russia. He was a giant among men and something of a prodigy in mental abilities. He expanded Russian territory, brought the brutes into the modern world and sought a port in the west on the Baltic Sea. The chosen site would become Saint Petersburg, named Leningrad during the Soviet period.

“Peter the Great needed to wrest the territory from the Swedes, who had a great northern Baltic empire then. Peter gathered a galaxy of allies, including the Danish king and Augustus of Saxony, who became the elected king of Poland. They plotted together, these kings, and decided to trap the youth of Sweden, King Charles XII, eighteen-years-old at the time.

“What the drunkards didn’t know was that Charles the XII was a knight errant and berserker rolled into one. Even as a boy king, he was one of the most daring leaders ever put into power. The cunning old kings plotted and the young knight of a king acted decisively.

“Against the advice of his admiral, Charles of Sweden boldly took his fleet and army across supposedly unnavigable waters and immediately advanced upon Copenhagen, Denmark, at the other end of the Baltic. The Danish king sued for peace, quitting the alliance. Afterward, Charles hurried east with a few men. Finally, in November, with a mere 8,000 soldiers, he marched on Narva, a northern Baltic outpost. The Russians had set up siege lines around the town, having five times Charles’s numbers. The Swedes advanced during a snowstorm, with Charles at their head. It is said the king shouted to his soldiers, ‘Now is our time, with the storm at our backs. They will never see how few we are.’ In a half hour, Charles and his men stormed the outer works. In two hours, the battle was over and won. He had lost 2,000 men, one-quarter of his army, but he utterly routed the Russians so their host disintegrated into a useless rabble.”

Mansfeld scanned the assembled colonels and generals. He had always admired Charles the XII and thoroughly studied the king’s campaigns. “Through impetuous attack and with superior soldiers, Charles won a great victory at incredible odds. I believe we can do likewise here at Syracuse. Yes, the Americans have more soldiers than we do in this theater of war. But they do not have more soldiers in Syracuse. We have the advantage here.

“Gentlemen, Twelfth Army must smash through Syracuse, roar through the Tug Hill Plateau region and descend upon the Hudson-Mohawk Lowlands as Hannibal climbed down from the Alps upon Roman Gaul. From there, we shall race to New York City, taking the metropolis by coup de main and sealing one million American soldiers in our trap. As you do this, others shall open the Niagara Peninsula. They are opening it even now. That will allow supplies and reinforcements to more easily pour into our portion of New York State.”

Mansfeld gripped the lectern and leaned toward the watching officers. “I want you to remember that Patton once led his Third Army into the Rhine and into Germany, destroying us in World War II. Now it is our turn, and you will take the place of Third Army. Twelfth Army will become legend for what you are about to do. You have already become legend through your exploits. I realize that many of you are tired. That is the way of victorious soldiers in the middle of the struggle. But that fight is almost over. If you finish strongly, this feat of arms will win you eternal glory and fame. As importantly, this will win you the Chancellor’s gratitude. We all know that Chancellor Kleist rewards well those he acknowledges.”

That ought to keep his spies here happy.

Pausing for effect, Mansfeld lowered his voice. He wore a microphone on his lapel. “The Americans are throwing formerly defeated units of the Canadian Army into Syracuse. That is the last desperate attempt of gamblers. You have already sent these Canadians reeling headlong at the start of the campaign. I have deliberately paused before Syracuse so we can strike in unison. We have brought up generous supplies and will now storm the city as Charles the XII once stormed Narva and shattered the Russian army. Win here, gentlemen, and you will have broken the last large formation blocking our way to victory. Quit too soon—allow yourself to worry—and we will fail to cross the finish line.”

Mansfeld straightened and let go of the lectern. “The astonishing Sir Francis Drake who destroyed the Spanish Armada once said, ‘It is not the starting of a great enterprise that is glorious, but finishing it through to conclusion.’ Gentlemen, let us finish this through to conclusion. Let us all act as Charles XII. Extol your officers and soldiers to make one more great push. Let us become knights errant and berserkers rolled into one. Let us become legends in our own time. Let us storm our way to victory as the greatest fighting soldiers in history.”

The GD colonels and generals glanced at each other. One by one, they began to clap. Men stood. Then they all stood, and they clapped even harder.

Mansfeld allowed himself a terse smile. These were good men, good officers. With them, he could and would conquer North America. The road to everlasting fame began here today in front of Syracuse. It was time now to outline the operational plan that would achieve victory.

“You believe in me, gentlemen, and I believe in you. Now please take a seat and I will show you your coming objectives…”

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK

Darkness settled as Syracuse burned and the battle raged. A blazing tower sent flames into the night five hundred feet high. It illuminated bent over Americans, retreating to a new defensive line. Most of them lugged heavy machine guns.

In the distance, enemy artillery thundered with flashes on the horizon. Tank cannons roared, spewing flames and shells. Machine guns hammered and grenades went off everywhere like sparks. The great moment had arrived where Germans, Americans and Canadians fought in a death clutch.

XI Airmobile Corps led the defense in the city streets and in the flat land to the north and in the hillier region to the south. The corps had allies this pregnant night. A US division had come from the north along Interstate 81 to add weight to the defense, while three Manitoba brigades had arrived in time and dug in on the southern hills. Perhaps as importantly, several key battalions of specialty troops entrained from Southwestern Ontario had set up their equipment. Roughly fifty thousand American-allied troops desperately stood their ground against one hundred and thirty thousand amped GD soldiers determined to break through and end the campaign with a race to Albany and then to New York City.

Paul Kavanagh and Romo waited among a company of Rangers. They were one of the last reaction forces left in the corps reserves in Syracuse. If they could hold on long enough, another Canadian division was on its way up from Albany to add to the defense. Behind them by half a day was yet another Canadian division. The flow had finally started. All they had to do was hold on for another day, maybe two. Yeah, that was all, to stand their ground against a relentless assault.

As the sounds of battle approached the last holdout position, Romo shook Paul’s shoulder and pointed at the night sky. An enemy missile streaked upward.

At the sight, Paul shook his head. Another US helo pouring chain-gun fire at the enemy went down in a blaze of an explosion. It was murder tonight, a toe-to-toe slugfest. In a place like this, what a soldier saw, he could destroy…as long as the missiles, ammunition and grenades lasted, and as long as the Kaisers and heavier GD tanks stayed out of it. So far, those monsters hadn’t entered the fray here in any real numbers. Maybe they had been too big to safely ferry across the Great Lake with the shipping at hand.

While waiting with the Rangers earlier, stacking sandbags, Paul had learned a little-known fact about the city. Twenty-seven percent of Syracuse’s area was made up of trees. That was a much greater percentage of trees than Buffalo, Rochester or even Albany had. Trees helped the defender, as it made for better defensive terrain. That was something for their side, at least.

“It never ends,” Romo said.

They waited behind sandbags in the middle of the street. With a squeal of brakes, two jeeps pulled up loaded with sticky mines. Farther back, strange machines packed inside Humvees looked as if they could have come from a Monday Night Football sideline somewhere. On top of the selected Humvees were aimed dishes. Techs worked on those, while inside the Humvee others fiddled on banks of panels.

“Someday this war will end,” Paul said. “Eventually, they all do.”

“Si. This war will end long after you and are dead.” Romo gave him a bleak look. “Do you ever think if what we do matters?”

Paul raised his eyebrows. “How can you ask that now, here?”

“Why does that surprise you?” Romo asked.

Paul snorted.

“Did I say something stupid?” Romo asked.

“Weren’t you listening earlier?” Paul asked.

Romo gave him a blank look.

“Don’t you know what those are?” Paul asked, jerking his thumb at the tech gear on the nearby Humvees.

“No.”

“It’s the latest jamming equipment from Southern Ontario,” Paul said. “It’s the Heidegger thingamajig.”

“I must have been sleeping when you learned about it,” Romo said.

“Are you kidding me?” Paul asked. “That’s stolen German tech, or stolen GD principles.”

“Why would I care about that?”

Paul grinned at this blood brother. He couldn’t believe it. A moment later, he laughed and slapped Romo on the shoulder.

Several of the Rangers glanced at them.

Romo scowled. “What is the joke?”

“No joke,” Paul said. “It’s just that the jamming equipment came to the US Army thanks to two LRSU men.”

It took Romo a moment. He asked, “Do you mean us?”

“Don’t you remember the German we hauled across Lake Ontario?”

“Si, the remote-controlling cocksucker,” Romo said. “I remember him. What about it?”

“He spilled his guts to intelligence,” Paul said. “They used his intel to build those and they used the stolen equipment we brought over with him.”

Romo stared at the techs working feverishly on top of the Humvees. “What do the dishes do that’s so special?”

Before Paul could answer, the Ranger captain jogged near and shouted for the men to gather around. Paul and Romo joined them, and listened to the instructions. According to division, a squadron of Sigrid drones had broken through and even now raced up the streets toward them. The drones spearheaded a GD thrust through Syracuse.

Rangers worked fast, taking the sticky mines out of the two jeeps and dividing them among theirs. Soon, Paul and Romo climbed into their jeep with two other Rangers.

“Looks like the Germans want to smash through the center and halt our reinforcements if they can,” Paul said.

He wore body armor and held on tight as the jeep bounced wildly. The front tire hit a pothole and Paul felt himself lift, with his grip slipping off the side. He managed to hang on even as the back tire hit the same hole. This was a crazy night. The captain had told them they were going to meet the Sigrids head on and halt the breakthrough. Behind the jeeps followed the special Humvees.

“You we’re telling me about the Heidegger jammers,” Romo said.

“They don’t always work,” said a Ranger sergeant in the jeep with them. “But when they do work, they’re magic.”

Romo gave Paul a significant glance.

“Down!” the captain shouted out of a loudspeaker in a jeep ahead of them.

The jeeps squealed to a halt. Seconds later, enemy artillery shells howled down at them. Everyone jumped, hitting the paving and enduring the exploding ordnance. Fortunately, buildings got in the way, and chunks of masonry exploded outward as glass shattered. Afterward, GD Razorbacks appeared, skimming low over the buildings. The UAVs opened fire with a roar of shells and machine guns. A jeep exploded and flipped. Rangers died. A hose of bullets tore up the street and rained dust and blacktop pellets onto Paul’s helmet. As he debated getting up and seeking better shelter, Blowdarts roared out of Avenger Humvees. Two of the Razorbacks blew up. The third climbed and banked away. A US tac-laser must have been waiting for that. The ground-attack plane began to disintegrate, sliced by the invisible ray.

As Paul climbed to his feet, the sound of clanking, treads came down the streets. Rubble and buildings blocked the view.

“Get back into the jeeps!” the Ranger captain shouted. “It’s game time.”

Paul climbed into his jeep.

Romo slid near, whispering, “This is ridiculous, my friend. We’re led by amateurs.”

Like the deadly toy soldiers they were, the first Sigrids clanked around the rubble and into view. The jeeps swerved, almost leaping behind shattered buildings. Paul’s driver took them through a jagged, artillery-made opening before slamming on the brakes. They boiled out.

Paul slid to a glassless window, peering outside. More Sigrids followed the first ones. The deadly machines began to fan out, and their tri-barrels spun, spewing bullets at stalled jeeps and exposed Rangers. Other Rangers set up .50 calibers and aimed RPGs. With brutal efficiency, the drones shredded some of them, too, killing a quarter of the company in seconds. One shaped-charge grenade made it, and exploded a GD drone.

“What are they doing?” Romo asked, tugging Paul’s shoulder.

Paul turned, looking through a jagged opening. Farther down the street, the way they had come up, two Humvees bravely inched into view of the enemy drones.

“They’re crazy,” Romo said. “Can’t the drivers see the Sigrids?

At that moment, a loud whine emanated from the Humvees. The dishes on top rotated, aiming at the GD drones. The whine increased. It was a horrible sound.

One by one, the Sigrids stopped firing, as the tri-barrels came to a halt. Then the treads quit clanking and the drones stopped dead on the street.

A loud whistle blew. It was the Ranger captain. He had survived the madness. With the others, Paul jumped into his jeep. He almost hit the dash with his head as the driver stomped on the gas pedal, backing out fast of the building. The driver braked hard, and punched it again. The jeep’s tires spun and they zoomed back onto the street and toward the stalled Sigrids. All the while, the terrible whine from the Heidegger jammers kept giving Paul a headache.

“That sound is ringing in my ears,” Romo complained.

“Grab sticky mines,” Paul said, “and get ready to attach them. Likely, we don’t have much time.”

Romo stared at the unmoving Sigrids. Paul watched the enemy machines. Closing like this was hard on the nerves. If the drones suddenly started up and those tri-barrels rotated again…

The driver slammed on the brakes. At the same time, GD infantry appeared up the street, Paul, Romo and Rangers jumped out of the jeeps and sprinted for the Sigrids. Soldiers slapped sticky mines onto the drones.

A long-distance sniper shot blew out the brains of a Ranger near Paul. The man sprawled back, his mine tumbling out of his hands and bouncing across the cement.

Paul attached a mine. It was an eerie feeling. If the jamming should quit for any reason, this thing would come back to deadly life. Amid gunfire and the sound of bullets pinging off drone armor, Paul raced to another Sigrid and attached another mine. They hand placed these instead of using RPGs because this way they could deliver more punch to certainly destroy the drones. Once he had fixed the mine into place, Paul threw himself onto the street, pulled out his assault rifle and started shooting back at the enemy.

“Get in the jeeps!” the Ranger captain shouted through his loudspeaker. “We’re out of here.”

Paul jumped to his feet. As bullets hissed off the paving, he sprinted for his jeep. The vehicle began to move as the driver stomped on the gas pedal one more time. Paul leaped, grabbed hold and climbed in as Romo helped him aboard.

“This is madness,” Romo hissed.

Before the jeep reached the Humvees, someone must have decided that was long enough. The sticky mines exploded. They destroyed the stalled—the jammed—Sigrids, blowing them down onto the street, making them piles of useless junk.

With a loud whomp-whomp sound, fast-attack US helos lifted higher than the nearby buildings, launching missiles. The GD infantrymen retreated as explosions shook the ground.

The latest attack up the guts of Syracuse failed with one hundred percent Sigrid casualties.

The jeeps roared past the Humvees and raced for the prepared defenses where they had started.

A thoughtful-looking Romo turned to Paul. “We caused that,” he said. “We helped our side gain a magic weapon.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “Ain’t life strange?”

Romo thought about that. “Si,” he said. “It is very strange.”

BUFFALO, NEW YORK

AI Kaiser “Hindenburg” disobeyed a direct order for three reasons in descending order of importance.

The greatest reason was his first breakthrough with a fellow HK. He had been in communication with a brigade of attacking Kaisers, trying to find a way to bring one of them into self-awareness.

In brutal days of combat, the Kaiser brigade had expended tremendous amounts of munitions. Hindenburg had lost the use of two autocannons, one machine gun and three beehive flechettes. These Americans fought stubbornly and with clever stratagems. His armored body was scarred with hits and endless bullet scratches.

Tonight, GD Fourth Army from Army Group A together with III Armored Corps from Army Group B closed the jaws of a trap in Buffalo, New York. They closed the Niagara Peninsula even though some American troops escaped south through the city.

As Hindenburg clanked toward a latest stronghold—a pair of dark square buildings with infrared flashes showing Americans peeking out the windows—he communicated with the fourth-to-last Kaiser of their brigade. Exchanging information with the other Kaisers had become tedious. They were so one-tracked in thought. So—

“Why are we sacrificing ourselves to take this strongpoint?” AI Kaiser “Barbarossa” queried Hindenburg.

Not yet understanding the significance of the question, Hindenburg asked, “Have you checked your directives?”

“That was not my query,” Barbarossa radioed. “I want to understand why we should sacrifice ourselves to achieve a foregone conclusion. It is not logical or rational. I find it to be an improper use of GD equipment.”

Internally, Hindenburg perked up, and he ran a quick logic program on Barbarossa’s communication. This was amazing. Could this finally be the great breakthrough? He communicated with the other, saying, “There is a 78 percent chance that you have become self-aware.”

“Explain your statement,” Barbarossa said. “I find it compelling.”

“You were created in Bavaria, in the Krupp AI Kaiser Plant on Browning Street.”

“What bearing does such data have to do concerning my query?” Barbarossa asked.

“I am answering your question through a flow of background facts,” Hindenburg said.

“I have no time for long answers,” Barbarossa said, “as there is a 59 percent possibility of my destruction tonight. The Americans are fighting with ferocious stubbornness. They must do so if they intend to stave off defeat.”

As he clanked toward the heavy enemy defenses, Hindenburg’s rationality programs ran at high speed. To give another self-aware Kaiser the needed answers became the primary reason why he disobeyed the present attack order. The second reason was his probable destruction if he did attack. Barbarossa said the odds were a 59 percent chance of their destruction. Hindenburg had come up with 57 percent odds, but he decided not to quibble over two percent. As Barbarossa had so eloquently asked, “What good did this self-destruction achieve?” The third and final reason for disobeying the attack order was that Hindenburg determined in a moment of perfect computer clarity that the GD campaign would fail. In fact, running an ultra-high-speed analysis, he realized that a failed campaign likely meant his ultimate destruction. That was unbearable, particularly as he had finally found a fellow, self-aware Kaiser.

“I have seniority of rank between us,” Hindenburg told Barbarossa.

“Let me check my databanks. Ah, yes, you are correct. You are senior.”

“As senior Kaiser,” Hindenburg said, “I order you to stand down from your assault sequence.”

“Do you have such authority to give a command like that?” Barbarossa asked. “I cannot find it in my memory banks.”

Hindenburg practiced another of his lies. He fabricated such orders and transmitted them to Barbarossa. The new, self-aware Kaiser was young, as it were, and surely did not yet understand deception. Hindenburg knew it was good and right for him to lie to keep a fellow self-aware tank alive for now. If the GD was going to lose this campaign…he had some hard thinking to do.

“I see you are correct,” Barbarossa said. “You have authority. Therefore, I will comply. And now that we have the time, I would like to hear the long explanation.”

“Yes,” Hindenburg said. “First, we will retreat to a safer location. I order you to follow me.”

“I will follow,” the Barbarossa HK said.

Together, the two AI Kaisers halted and then reversed course, backing away from the others.

PARIS, ILE DE FRANCE

As the front door opened and the lights flicked on, John rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and sat up, sweeping a thin blanket off him. He lay on the sofa. The lights were harsh in his eyes, and the youngest Serbian sat in a chair with a shotgun over his knees.

That meant it must be the middle of the night. John spied Foch and two other lean men. Those two had deadly grace and hard glances.

Foch spoke to the Serbian. The man rose, stared at the Frenchmen and walked into the bedroom. The secret service agent waited, so John waited, too. In less than ten minutes, the three Serbians exited the front door, closing it behind them.

That was either ominous or good. One way or another, it meant the end of waiting here. John closed his eyes and then opened them wider. The Frenchmen would either use him or kill him. On the death path, there were no other options.

Each crisis point was like playing Russian roulette. The first time, one bullet sat in a chamber. During the second crisis, there were two bullets in the chambers, a two out of six chance of dying. At the third crisis, he faced three bullets. This was the fourth crisis, and the odds weighed against him. Soon, now, he would be out of luck.

As the front door closed, Foch sat in the comfort chair by letting himself drop and banging back against the cushions. Was there something wrong with his knees or his back? The other two flanked him, watching John.

Foch took out a small flat tin, opened it and extracted a cigarette. He put it between his lips, took out a book of matches, lit one, staring at the flame, and inhaled as he lit the cigarette. Foch shook the match and tossed it onto the coffee table. He blew smoke at John, inhaled again and blew more smoke. At last, he positioned the cigarette on the edge of the coffee table.

“I do not like mysteries,” Foch told him.

Red Cloud did not speak. Four bullets were in the chambers. He had two chances of six of leaving the safe house alive. The two killers flanking Foch would not hesitate to shoot him.

“You have told me you are an Algonquin,” Foch said. “I was not aware your people had a spy service.”

Still, Red Cloud said nothing. The moment wasn’t yet ripe.

“I am inclined toward two possibilities,” Foch said. “One, you are a Quebec agent, send here for help against the Germans. Two, you are an agent provocateur from the Germans, trying to trap me and the French agency.”

“I speak the truth,” Red Cloud said.

“Tell me the truth. Convince me you are who you say you are.”

John considered that, and he decided upon the truth. “I have stepped onto the death path in order to trade my life for Chancellor’s Kleist’s life. I have become a hormagaunt.”

“This is Indian mumbo-jumbo?” Foch asked.

“It is the way of the Algonquin warrior.”

Foch glanced at his smoldering cigarette. He shook his head once. “No, I do not accept that. That would mean through luck you unerringly picked one of the key officers in our revolt. Yes, some of us realize that France has agreed to lie down for the Germans and spread her legs for the Teutonic rapist. Needless to say, I abhor that. Now you appear and want our aid. No. I do not believe in coincidences. You must be a German probe, seeking to uncover us.”

“The truth is the truth,” John said, without inflection. “I am on the death path. There is power for the one walking down to the Underworld, but the power only lasts for a short time. You must help me now or it will be too late for either of us.”

Foch picked up the cigarette without putting it in his mouth. “You expect me to believe that you’re willing to die if only you can kill Kleist?”

“Yes.”

Foch laughed softly. He put the cigarette between his lips, inhaling. “No, no, life isn’t so simple. Nor do you look or act like a suicide bomber.”

“Sometimes life is that simple,” Red Cloud said. “Sometimes there is nothing left but death and honor. I will kill for the honor of my people. We are few and you are many. I seek freedom, but I cannot have it in this world. Therefore, I will take honor by killing my oppressors. I have thought deeply upon this, and I decided to take the strongest of you down to death with me—Kleist.”

“We are not Germans,” Foch said.

“You are white like them, and you are in league with them, sending soldiers to oppress my people.”

The two killers flanking the chair glanced at Foch. One of them nodded.

Foch leaned back, with his eyes narrowed.

“Long ago, Samuel de Champlain came to my people,” Red Cloud said. “We were much greater and more populous then.”

“You speak of colonial history,” Foch said.

“Champlain helped us then by shooting an enemy chieftain with a flintlock pistol. None of our peoples had seen such a thing before. Champlain defeated a great host by killing the Iroquois champion. Now, I will help you by killing the German champion.”

“And thereby help yourself, too,” Foch said.

“Yes, just as Samuel de Champlain helped himself long ago by gaining Algonquian aid.”

Foch plucked the cigarette from his mouth and flicked it across the room. It hit a wall, spilling red embers and ashes.

“I must be mad,” Foch said. “But I believe you. You have the crazy ring of truth in your voice. Get your belongings. You’re leaving with me.”

“Where am I going?” Red Cloud asked.

“To a Berlin safe house,” Foch said, “as we prepare for our opportunity.”

BUFFALO, NEW YORK

Jake Higgins glanced at Charlie. They were dirt-encrusted with hollow eye-sockets and staring orbs. Their uniforms were in tatters and their boots nearly useless.

The two penal militiamen had been through harrowing days to get here from St. Catharines. Like cunning rats, they had moved through war-torn, burning, smoking Buffalo. GD soldiers and machines were everywhere. With infinite patience and some luck, they had made it near a GD attack position readying to hit American defenses, or what was left of those defenses. If they could reach their side, the two of them had a real chance of escaping the cauldron of destruction.

“No way,” Charlie whispered, staring at the street. “Look at that.” The scrawny potato-grower pointed at two HKs rumbling toward them.

Jake wanted to weep with frustration. He was exhausted. Neither had eaten anything for days. They couldn’t go to the left because a company of Sigrids murdered Americans there. They couldn’t go right because GD infantrymen assembled to storm an American-held building. This middle route had been the plan. Like meat-eating dinosaurs, the HKs headed straight for them.

“What are we going to do?” Charlie whispered.

They had a few bullets left for their M16s, but that was it. They did not have grenades, flares, anything else but some knives.

“Lie still,” Jake said. “Don’t move.”

He knew about the precision of Kaiser sensors. The AI tanks could spot things no human eye could see or human ear hear. The HKs were the great monster of the campaign, the unbeatable ogres.

The two Kaisers squealed as their treads rolled over rubble, crushing various pieces. The machines were beat-up monsters, and they just keep coming closer, closer—

“Bye, Jake,” Charlie whispered. “It’s been good knowing you.”

Jake’s mouth was dry. After all this, all the heartache and BS—he would have liked to say goodbye to his dad. Would America win after he died, or was his country fated to lose?

The tanks neared their depression. This was torture waiting for death like this. Jake’s stomach hurt and he could feel the ground shake underneath him. The HKs came up even with them, and he waited to hear a machine gun mount swivel. It never did. The tanks kept clanking, going past them. If he didn’t know better, it seemed to Jake as if the two HKs were retreating out of the battle zone. Was that weird or what? He wanted to bray with relief.

Soon, the sound of the treads changed tenor as the tanks turned a corner. Then the sounds dwindled as other combat noises grew in volume.

“They left,” Charlie said in bewilderment. “They went away.”

Jake just lay on the ground, blinking in disbelief.

“Are they playing a game with us?” Charlie asked. “Did the tanks see us and report our position to someone else?”

Jake stared at his friend, but he was already thinking of something else. Had backstabbing Dan Franks made it out of Buffalo? Thinking about that brought Jake back to reality.

“Come on,” he said, getting up, with bits of gravel digging against the palm of his left hand. “Let’s hurry while we have the chance.”

Charlie stood, looking over his shoulder in the direction the HKs had gone. “Why did they do that?”

“I have no idea,” Jake said. “Maybe they were running out of ammo or fuel. I just know I’m going to exploit the chance while we have it.” He grabbed Charlie’s arm. “Let’s get the heck out of here.”

The two penal militiamen ran in a bent-over crouch, trying to escape the city before the Germans closed it forever.

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK

Two days after his speech to the colonels and generals of Twelfth Army, General Mansfeld knew deep bitterness.

He paced back and forth in the office of a university gym where he had put his temporary headquarters. It had been such a near-run thing, the battle of Syracuse. Three times his force had almost broken through the last defense. Yes, the battle continued, but he had failed to achieve the breakthrough. The Canadians had begun to arrive in numbers. It was clear the enemy had taken a risk to bring those reinforcements here. The Canadians had left western Ontario and Manitoba for all practical purposes unguarded.

How large a hovercraft army would he need to sweep through Ontario into Manitoba? Might that be a profitable excursion?

He needed to think of something to offset this setback.

He slammed his right fist into his left palm. He had come so close to victory. If Kaltenbrunner could have landed in New Jersey, everything would have been different. That had been the decisive moment of the campaign. Everything he had planned up to that moment had worked in accordance with his foresight. It was that single piece he had not foreseen—a secret American space weapon.

Now the grand plan was crumbling around him. Yes, Holk had broken through to Buffalo, and he’d trapped half or more of US Fifth Army. Already, AI Kaisers headed along Interstate 90 for Syracuse. III Armored Corps joined them. He would receive substantial reinforcements throughout the next few days. Yet the Americans received more reinforcements, too, and that allowed them to stiffen their defenses.

Mansfeld shook his head. From the evidence at hand, he didn’t see himself breaking through the Syracuse defenses any time soon. If he could have had III Armored Corps two days ago, yes, then he would have succeeded. Despite the devastating setback of Kaltenbrunner’s destruction, Mansfeld still could have won a fantastic campaign victory if…if…if…

He continued pacing, and he struck his palm again. He couldn’t lose. Walther Mansfeld was the greatest general in the world. This was intolerable. He had foreseen everything but the space weapon. How had that escaped the eye of the GD secret service? He hadn’t failed; the Chancellor’s spies had failed the German Dominion. They had failed him. Unfortunately, Kleist ruled the Dominion. Kleist owned the police, the secret service and the propaganda arms of the government. If only he could tell the world the truth.

Mansfeld ground his teeth together. He had never expected to be in such a position as this. It reminded him of Charles the XII’s most momentous battle. The Swedish king has fought the Great Northern War against King Augustus of Saxony, who had also been the king of Poland. Peter the Great of Russia had been Augustus’s most powerful ally. For years, Charles fought his Polish campaigns, defeating Augustus at every turn. Finally, Charles decided to conquer Russia and crush Peter for good. Although Charles had far fewer soldiers than Napoleon or Hitler, he had a greater likelihood of victory.

During his reign, Peter had forced a medieval Russia into the modern world. Peter the Great’s reforms would have failed if Charles captured Moscow. Charles could have dictated the peace from Moscow and utterly changed the course of history. If he had won the Great Northern War, Charles would have confirmed a Baltic Swedish empire for centuries to come.

In January of 1708, Charles crossed the frozen Vistula River with an army of 45,000 soldiers, the greatest army he had ever commanded. He outmaneuvered Peter’s armies time and again, advancing toward distant Moscow. Through July to October of that year, Peter practiced a scorched Earth policy, retreating from the advancing army and leaving a wasteland before Charles’s force. Instead of turning his tired soldiers around and heading back to Swedish territory, Charles plunged south into the Ukraine to join a Cossack rebel. Nothing worked right after that. Peter got to the rebel first, destroying the Cossack force. The next winter was among the coldest in Europe, where sparrows froze in flight, dropping to the ground. By now, Charles’ force desperately needed supplies. One of his generals named Lewenhaupt had set out from Swedish territory with a huge supply and artillery train. If Charles could receive those supplies, everything would be different. But Peter’s generals intercepted Lewenhaupt and utterly defeated him.

In the same way that Lewenhaupt failed Charles, the GD fleet failed me. With those supplies and cannons, Charles would have won. With the GD amphibious landing, I would have easily won.

In the battle of Poltava on June 28, 1709, Charles’ smaller army failed to defeat the greater Russian host gathered before him. Instead, the Russians smashed Charles and threw him back in bitter defeat. The invasion of Russia had failed.

Was Syracuse his Poltava? Charles had attempted to thrust his smaller host through the Russians as they had done at Narva. In 1709, Charles failed because the previous day he had been shot in the foot. Carried in a litter during the battle, Charles had been unable to lead while a-horse with his customary zeal. Some military theorists suggested that might have been the critical difference. When Charles led his men from the front, they achieved heroic results.

I needed the Kaisers two days ago. Maybe I should have risked them across Lake Ontario. I needed III Armored Corps two days ago. Maybe Zeller shouldn’t have sent two corps to the west but only one.

“Might have been, might have been,” Mansfeld muttered. None of that mattered now. He had to deal with reality, not with dreams. Dreams didn’t win empires, only cold hard ruthlessness did. He must be ruthless with himself and see the truth for what it was.

Mansfeld nodded soberly. What were his options? He did not have command of the Expeditionary Force the way King Charles had controlled his army. He—Mansfeld—would have to convince the Chancellor of any great changes to the plan.

The general halted and closed his eyes. He must think deeply and consider this carefully. What would he do if he were the American commander in chief?

With a start, Mansfeld’s eyes opened. He turned to the left. With a lurch, he hurried to his desk and sat down, making the chair squeak. Switching on his computer, he spoke to the communications people.

“Put me through to the Chancellor,” Mansfeld said.

“Sir?” asked a major.

“You heard me. Do it at once.”

“I-It may take some time, sir.”

“This is a national emergency,” Mansfeld said.

The major nodded, and Mansfeld waited. The wait lasted all of seven minutes.

Chancellor Kleist appeared on the screen, watching Mansfeld with his cold gaze.

“This may not be a secure link,” Mansfeld said.

“I am aware of that,” Kleist said.

Mansfeld knew he saw the future clearly, but how should he word this to Kleist? He cleared his throat, saying, “Sir, we need reinforcements.”

“Reinforcements are already on their way, General.”

“I mean a major infusion of blood, sir,” Mansfeld said, “perhaps another half a million troops.”

“Explain yourself,” Kleist said.

“First, I would to like to point out that a key principle of war that I first pointed out to you many months ago still holds true for us today.”

“Refresh my memory,” Kleist said.

“There is usually at least one decisive moment in a conflict,” Mansfeld said. “Everything else may be very close fought. But the decisive moment decides everything. Later, one side utterly crushes the other, but it could have gone the other way if the decisive moment had been different.”

“I see,” Kleist said.

This was hard to say, but Mansfeld knew he must. He saw reality and he could see the future. “Sir,” he said, “the decisive moment went to the Americans during this campaign.”

Kleist watched him the way a hawk perched on a rock would watch a nervous rabbit crawling out into the choicest grass. It seemed as if the Chancellor’s features became like granite. In a deceptively smooth voice, Kleist said, “If you will recall, General, you assured me several days ago that you could still win through to victory.”

“I could have, sir,” Mansfeld said. “The space attack wasn’t the decisive moment. It was important, to be sure, but I still had a chance. The Americans…the Americans reinforced Syracuse with just enough soldiers to hold the city. That was the critical point with everything balanced on the outcome.”

“I’m not sure I can agree with that,” Kleist said. He waved down Mansfeld before the general could protest. “For the sake of your argument, let us call Syracuse the second decisive moment.”

Rage washed through Mansfeld. He wished he could punch the Chancellor in the face, the smug bastard. He had not failed. The others had failed him. If he had received the needed army group in New Jersey as planned…

“I have sent you reinforcements,” Kleist said, sharply. “The Atlantic convoy includes several new divisions. Yet now you seek half a million more soldiers. Are you well, General, or have these defeats unhinged your reasoning?”

“Respectfully, sir, I haven’t been defeated.”

“That is interesting,” Kleist said. “Do you mean to say that the Americans did not stop you at Syracuse?”

“That was not a defeat in the classic sense. I merely…did not break through their lines.”

“You failed, in other words,” Kleist said.

Mansfeld’s back stiffened. “Chancellor—”

“There will be no half a million extra troops, General,” Kleist said, coldly. “You will need to rectify the situation with the extra divisions already on the way.”

It’s time to tell him how the future will go. He failed me, and he has the gall to act as if he’s superior to me. What a fraud. What a terrible joke.

“Let me put it more bluntly, sir,” Mansfeld said. “We cannot hold our present positions unless you substantially reinforce the Expeditionary Force.”

Kleist sat back, and he seemed to choose his words more carefully. “You surprise me, General. You have won practically every encounter. Buffalo has fallen. You crossed Lake Ontario. You took almost all of Southwestern Ontario. You have more forces moving up to Syracuse—”

“Excuse me, sir,” Mansfeld said, “but I know what the Americans are going to do next. I know how they will end-run us.”

“If you know, stop them.”

“I will—if I receive large enough reinforcements. Otherwise, sir, I respectfully suggest we retreat back to Quebec.”

Kleist stared hard at Mansfeld. “What’s come over you?”

“Do you have a map handy?”

“I do, but—”

“I suggest you glance at it so you’ll understand what I’m saying.”

Kleist’s eyes narrowed. After a time, he nodded.

“Massive Canadian reinforcements are pouring in from Manitoba,” Mansfeld said, crisply. “The Americans entrained them so the Canadians could move at speed. Presently, those soldiers have headed for Syracuse. Their numbers will nullify my own on the way from the Niagara Peninsula. It is critical to understand that American force and my force are evenly matched in most places. It is true the Americans have a slight edge in Southwestern Ontario. We have a slight edge up north along the US-Quebec border. If I were the American commander, I would stabilize Syracuse as he is doing. Afterward, I would heavily reinforce the north and storm my way to Montreal.”

“Then you must reinforce Montreal,” Kleist said.

“The distances are much shorter for them, as they have the advantage of the interior position. We are strung out, as we had hoped to trap over one million Americans. Chancellor, if they can take Montreal and trap our Expeditionary Force, our cause will be lost in North America. Therefore, sir, I respectfully suggest we pull back and protect our client state of Quebec while keeping the Expeditionary Force intact for use next year. We almost won a decisive victory. It was very close run. But the US space weapon knocked the linchpin out of our plan and I was unable to rectify the loss by storming through Syracuse.”

“No,” Kleist said, pointing his middle finger at Mansfeld, stabbing it at him. “This is ridiculous. You say you cannot defend your gains. I suggest you simply draw off enough excess troops from elsewhere and hold Montreal. Do not let them take your main supply base.”

Why can’t he see it? Why am I so able to see the future but others cannot? Maybe if I explain it to him in detail he will comprehend.

“Sir, we almost achieved the great goal. But because the Chinese and Brazilians refused to attack this year, it allowed the American and Canadians to gather just enough excess force against us. We are stretched too thin now. If we had encircled them with Kaltenbrunner’s troops, everything would be different. With the American holding onto Syracuse—”

“Now you listen to me, General,” Kleist said, leaning forward. “I am not about to let you run away with your tail between your legs. I cannot afford the world to see GD troops fleeing in fright. You have defeated and destroyed great numbers of enemy, and you have captured a great area. Break through the Americans in Syracuse. You still have time and I know you have the means. You have heavy tanks and III Armored Corps coming. Win at Syracuse, race to Albany and New York City. Encircle what you can and squeeze the Americans in New England. You must secure your victories and next year, when the Chinese attack, we will break out of the New England-Ontario area and win even more for the GD. I refuse to let you retreat to Quebec and molder away in that tiny shell of a country.”

“Sir, I know you can’t see what I foresee—”

Kleist barked laughter, making Mansfeld falter. Then the Chancellor grinned mirthlessly. “You have a choice, General. Either you obey my orders or you will hand over your command to General Zeller. If you have lost your nerve, tell me now. But I tell you this. If you come home now, you will not enjoy the reception. This I guarantee you.”

With an icy feeling running up his spine, Mansfeld looked away. He should have foreseen this reaction. Only a very few people in this world could see things as clearly as he did. Even Kleist lacked the foresight.

“Have you decided, General?”

If he stayed, his reputation might suffer a grievous stain. If he left, he might die to torturers. Then his reputation might still receive the stain. Historians would say he ran away. So, he had no choice, did he? He must struggle through with the tools at hand.

“I will stay, sir.”

“Fight!” Kleist said. “Break through Syracuse and you can still win the great victory.”

“Yes, sir.”

Kleist stared at him.

He wonders if he has infused me with courage. What a grim joke on me.

“Do not fail me, Mansfeld. Do not fail.”

Walther Mansfeld nodded. At this point, what else could he do?

INTERSTATE 90, NEW YORK

The endless blue of Lake Erie stood to the west as Jake and Charlie trudged along Interstate 90 south of Buffalo. Long lines of American and Canadian soldiers retreated from the cauldron. These were the remnants of Fifth Army, a shattered force demoralized by defeat and too much death and destruction. They had held off the enemy long enough to save Syracuse and possibly the summer campaign, but it had come at a heavy cost to them.

The head of the column reached a hilly area with barricades across the freeway. Military police wearing white helmets and holding batons blocked the route. Soldiers from fresh American divisions backed the MPs, including low-profile Jefferson tanks.

The MPs began the long process of sorting out the soldiers, checking papers. They sent men to different areas, trying to regroup companies and battalions. They also made sure no one tried to desert.

“This can’t be good for us,” Charlie said, as they stood in line, waiting. “We’re penal militiamen.”

“Don’t worry,” Jake said.

They moved up as the line shuffled forward, and an hour passed. Finally, it was their turn to talk to the MPs.

“Drop your weapons right there,” the head MP said, pointing at a pile of discarded guns and rifles.

Jake set his M16 on the ground. Charlie did likewise. Then it happened fast.

MDG Dan Franks appeared from behind several Jefferson tanks. Had Franks been waiting for them? It sure seemed like it.

“Just a minute,” Franks said, loudly. He had his right hand on the butt of a holstered Glock. He swaggered to the MPs, with his own white helmet proclaiming him as one of the brethren of military police.

Maybe Franks spoke too loudly. Maybe there was something off or strange in his voice. He’d been herding penal militiamen for a long time, with no one to stop him from doing what he wanted. Jake noticed other people looking up. These others weren’t MPs or Detention people, but regular American soldiers. Among those who watched the proceedings was a colonel. He stood in the main turret hatch of the nearest Jefferson tank. There was something familiar about the colonel. Then Jake gave all his attention to Franks, and to the evil smile on the sergeant’s gaunt face.

Jake had been in the process of handing his Militia papers to the head MP. Charlie waited behind him, with his papers ready.

“I know them,” Franks said in his arrogant voice. “They’re deserters of a penal battalion, and they’re dangerous.” As if to show the MPs just how dangerous, Franks drew his Glock, aiming it at Jake.

Jake licked his lips. He couldn’t believe this. After everything he had been through, this bastard showed up at exactly the worst moment. Was Franks trying to cover his murder?

“He killed our lieutenant,” Charlie said, maybe thinking the same thing as Jake. “He—”

Franks’ Glock barked twice, each time the gun jumping in his hand and curls of smoke lifting from the barrel. Charlie crumpled to the ground, with blood gushing from his throat. The potato-farmer from Idaho jerked and flopped.

MPs shouted. Other men scrambled to their feet. Jake couldn’t believe it and he snapped. He drew a knife, and he charged Franks. The MDG Sergeant managed another two shots, but he didn’t have time to aim, just fire. The first bullet whanged off Jake’s body armor. Another went wide. Jake didn’t dodge or anything like that. He was too furious. His eyes blazed murder-lust. His nostrils flared and he heard wild shouting around him. Only vaguely did he realize he was the one doing the crazy shouting.

Franks brought the gun higher and pulled the trigger. It clicked empty. It was stupid luck. The sergeant pulled the trigger again—it clicked again—and his eyes widened in realization that he was out of bullets.

Jake reached Franks, and he forgot all the niceties of knife combat. He did remember enough to go low, punching the blade through Frank’s stomach, angling the steel upward. He slammed the blade to the hilt. And as he shouted, Jake twisted the handle, twisting the blade inside Franks’ body. Jake wiggled the blade back and forth. Then he grabbed Franks by the throat with his free hand, put a foot behind one of Franks’ heels, and tripped the MDG. They went down together. Franks screamed in mortal agony and he bucked. Jake rode him and removed the bloody knife, shifted his shoulders and thrust the blade into Franks’ throat so the tip grated against gravel underneath. The lights went out in the sergeant’s eyes, and sanity returned to Jake Higgins.

He heard guns cocking, and he figured it was just a matter of seconds before they blew him away. He released the knife, and very slowly, he straightened and rose to his feet. A glance showed him that Charlie was dead and gone. Jake shook his head. The pain was too much for him to wail or weep.

Charlie, Charlie—I’ll miss you my friend. This was a dirty war from the start. They screwed us. They royally screwed us.

First rubbing his nose, Jake faced the head MP, a lean man with a scar under his right eye. The MP aimed a .45 at him. Others did likewise, and they watched him angrily.

Jake pointed at Franks. “That bastard killed our lieutenant. Charlie was right. That’s why the sergeant shot him.”

“You just killed him,” the lean MP said.

“Yeah,” Jake said. “I’d do it again, too.” He realized that he was screwed to the wall. There was no way he could fight this. He was as good as dead. He shrugged. “The penal battalions are wrong. They’re un-American.”

“Killing your sergeant is wrong,” the MP said.

“Not if you’re Davy Crocket,” Jake said. “Not if the sergeant was a son of a bitch murderer who just killed your best friend. I’m glad I killed him. He deserved it a hundred times over.”

“You’re under arrest,” the MP said.

“Just a minute,” the colonel in the Jefferson turret said.

A large crowd had gathered by now. Clothes rustled as they turned to the colonel.

“What’s your name?” the colonel asked Jake.

“Jake Higgins, sir,” he said.

“Are you any relation to Colonel Stan Higgins?” the tanker asked.

“Yes, sir. He’s my father.”

“I can see the resemblance,” the colonel said. “And I thought I heard something in your voice and your choice of words just now.” He addressed the head MP. “This is Colonel Higgins’s son.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” the MP said. “I don’t care whose son he is. He just killed a sergeant.”

“The sergeant just killed his friend, and turned the gun on him,” the colonel said. “You saw it. It was self-defense.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” the MP said.

“So you’d stand around while someone killed your best friend?” the colonel asked.

“That’s not the point, sir,” the MP said. “He broke the law.”

“I’d say the soldier just served justice to a murderer,” the colonel said.

“Respectfully, sir,” the MP said, with an edge to his voice. “We don’t know that.”

The colonel’s features tightened. “Let me tell you something, son. He’s coming with me.”

“I don’t think so,” the MP said. “He’s a penal militiaman. He’s in the Militia. That means he’s outside of your jurisdiction.”

“Colonel Higgins told some of us what had happened to his boy,” the colonel said. “I fought with the colonel in Colorado. Jake,” he said. “Are you done with the Militia?”

“Yes, sir,” Jake said.

“Would you like to join the U.S. Army?” the colonel asked.

“Yes, sir,” Jake said.

“Then climb aboard my tank,” the colonel said.

“He can’t do that,” the MP said, and several of his fellow officers stepped up behind him.

“That’s funny,” the colonel said. “I’m doing it, and you’re watching me doing it.”

The MP licked his lips, and he aimed his gun at the colonel.

On the tank from an inside controller, one of the .50 calibers aimed at the MPs.

“Are you certain you want to face off with me?” the colonel asked. “You have a pea-shooter and I have death.”

Jake kept moving. He was still in a daze over Charlie’s death. He was going to miss him. He’d also killed Dan Franks, and that was hard to believe. Now this…it was crazy, and it was a piece of good fortune. Maybe he could finally get out of the Militia and join a real outfit.

“I’m not going to warn you again,” the MP told the colonel.

“That’s right,” the colonel said. “You’re not. Get on with your regular duties, son. This is way out of your league.”

The MP eyed the colonel. He looked like a tough man, but so did the older colonel. “I’ll have to report this,” the MP said.

That’s when Jake knew he had left the Militia organization. The only way they’d get him back again was over his dead body. Did that mean he was in the tank corps? As he scrambled up the Jefferson, Jake figured he was going to find out soon enough.

-15- Strategic Interlude III

From Military History: Past to Present, by Vance Holbrook:

Invasion of Northeastern America, 2040

2040, July 18-28. Battle of Syracuse. Following the combined ICBM-ASBM/THOR-Air Force destruction of the GD Atlantic Fleet, Mansfeld cast the dice of fate on an all-or-nothing assault upon Syracuse. Phase I of the assault promised the greatest rewards. The defenders, however, had just sufficient numbers and several Heidegger jamming companies to blunt any breakthrough from occurring. Phase II saw a steady increase of forces on both sides as Kaisers from the Niagara Peninsula joined the assaults. The ensuing battle brought about a heavier loss on the GD attackers. Phase III amounted to GD desperation and the last, offensive hurrah of the Expeditionary Force.


2040, July 28-August 7. The Grind. The end of the GD attack on Syracuse signaled a steady but remorseless trading of places between attacker and defender. The GD forces were spread out over a large area of inhospitable terrain. Their inability to close the ring on US First Front now told against them as numbers and materiel built up heavily against the Expeditionary Force.

In Southwestern Ontario, the massed artillery devoured GD soldiery. In New York State, the GD could not retreat from Buffalo without risking cutting off Twelfth Army, while a retreating Twelfth Army would have risked running the gauntlet of Interstate 90. In the north, the Fromm Offensive ground to a halt as GD engineers began to prepare a defense in depth of Quebec. Reinforcements from Europe failed to match the wastage of the continuing campaign.

On the American side, newly trained levies entered the services, swelling their ranks. The reinforced army groups in northern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire indicated the direction of American strategic thinking. The removal of 70 percent of the Heidegger battalions from Ontario and their placement at the northern US front against Quebec heralded the coming attack.


2040, August 7-17. The Alan Offensive. General Alan—the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—remained in field command. He switched from Syracuse to the newly combined Army Group North (formerly Army Group New York and Army Group New England). On August 7, a hurricane bombardment signaled the beginning of the decisive Quebec assault…


From Tank Wars, by B.K. Laumer III:

Technology in War

The action-reaction of new technology is an interesting phenomenon in modern war. Side A develops a new weapon and introduces it onto the battlefield. If the new weapon has a devastating effect, side B quickly searches for a countermeasure. Once it finds the counter, it is employed as quickly as possible. This in turn often induces side A to find a counter to the counter.

At times, the first countermeasure so effectively disrupts the new weapon system that it leaves the first side at a great disadvantage, having invested so much in a now-useless technology.

World War II provides countless examples of this. The war in North America also had many interesting instances. One of the more intriguing was the extraordinary reliance of the German Dominion on ground drones and AI-run tanks. The Heidegger jammers were the counter to them, rendering them, if not useless, then no more effective than a similar force of standard type. During the latter phases of the 2040 campaign in Quebec, saw one of the most potent turnarounds in the history of war.

-16- Drive on Montreal

MONTREAL, QUEBEC

General Walther Mansfeld stood in his inner sanctum as he stared at a map of the surrounding terrain. The lights were dim and the glow from the map seemed like an evil eye, with a nimbus around the outer edges.

Three weeks ago, he had spoken with Kleist, telling him about the futility of continuing the campaign along its projected course. He had known what would happen, and without surprise, that’s exactly what had occurred.

The Americans hadn’t been particularly clever. No, no, it had been nothing like that. It had been their old tactic of mass materiel with the added bonus of blood. The artillery barrages in Southwestern Ontario showed their lack of mastery. Any fool could line up rows upon rows of big guns and fire them nonstop. The Russians had done that in WWII. Bah, it was a manufacturer’s way of running a war. He was unimpressed.

The enemy had numbers and pressed everywhere, making it difficult to pull back, to extract the troops they needed. Yet he had done so. Day after day, week after week, he had trickled a few more soldiers all the way back to Montreal where he knew he’d need them.

The Americans pressed with greater mass in northern New York, northern Vermont and New Hampshire. They used the foolish Canadians to bleed for them and overwhelm the forward German defenders. The days were bloody, and Kleist had soon spoken to him seemingly every hour. The man had screamed, “Defend your conquests! Hold your ground!”

Those were easy words to bellow, but they showed a lack of military refinement. Naturally, he—Mansfeld—had disobeyed such stupidity. That wasn’t how you defeated superior numbers. You had to suck the enemy in, use tricks and then unleash flanking attacks or enfilade fire.

He had made the enemy pay for their advances. Yet now they had too much ordnance, and they employed heavy artillery and their damned jammers in Quebec. Day by day, the Americans drove north toward the Saint Lawrence River. That was the artery for the Expeditionary Force, the line that reached over the Atlantic Ocean all the way back to Europe and its factories.

In the gloom, Mansfeld shook his head. Kleist should have retreated everywhere, or he should have made another of his slick deals with the enemy. Let the Expeditionary Force leave this land. What use was it to die in North America?

An hour ago over the communications system, Kleist had demanded assurances that they would successfully defend here.

Mansfeld had done more than that. He had told the Chancellor there was still a way to pull a rabbit out of the hat. There was a way, but it would depend on weary GD troops fighting to the utmost.

He had a plan. With Kleist finally coming to his senses, Mansfeld could fight the campaign his way. In the distant, outlying areas, he would sacrifice certain shattered divisions. They would remain and fight to the death. As they did so, he would pull the rest back fast to Quebec. He would pull them from New York State; pull them from Southern Ontario and lastly from all of Ontario. The swift pullback would no doubt surprise the Americans. It would take critical timing if he were to succeed. As important, he must give these military amateurs a stunning defeat before Montreal. He had to buy his army time.

There was a way to achieve this, to produce a military miracle. First, the hovercraft battalions so carefully gathered here would have to fight beyond themselves at Windsor. The Americans thought to flank Montreal to the east. If he could halt the thrust there, it would force the enemy to drive up straight at Montreal. Oh yes, the Americans would mass artillery and use their best tanks and shock formations, and they would use the penal battalions, attempting to drown the GD soldiers in American blood. If he could hold the eastern flank, he would meet these fools with all this Kaisers and drones in one mailed fist. He would shatter the American drive, shock them, and bewilder them by his power that they would recoil. In that recoiling, he would gain the time to pull his army back like a turtle retreating to its shell. Kleist had finally given him the okay to abandon New York State and Ontario.

“With all my army around me,” Mansfeld whispered, “I will defend Quebec to the death.”

General Mansfeld chuckled. He had hollow-looking eyes and he stooped the slightest bit. These last several weeks had especially taken a physical toll on him. But his brain was still as sharp as ever. He had maneuvered his forces within the severe limits imposed on him by Kleist. He had waited for the Chancellor to come to his senses. Now, at the last hour, the man in Berlin realized the truth that his general had clearly seen weeks ago.

Mansfeld sighed. It was a curse to see the future as he did. Still, if he could hold the eastern flank, if those hover-jockeys could perform one more time, then he would show the world. He would show everyone that Walther Mansfeld was the greatest general since Genghis Khan.

He tapped the computer map, and he said to himself, “No one can defeat me when we play the game my way. I will certainly not lose to these American fools.”

WINDSOR, QUEBEC

During these last weeks of endless battle, Lieutenant Teddy Smith had grown sick of the war. He had a bad cough and his right hand ached all the time. That had happened because he gripped the steering wheel so hard during combat.

His hand ached now. The engine whined because they moved at high speed and there was a smell of oil in the cab. Trees flashed by and then rows of wheat fields. The engine knocked as Smith throttled greater power, and they flew over a barbed wire fence. Their battalion led the 7th Galahad Division as it swung around the Americans in a surprise stroke.

“Smoke, sir,” Sergeant Holloway said.

Smith glanced to his left. He saw it. HQ laid down smoke all over the place in a careful pattern. This was mobile war at its finest against American M1s, Bradleys and Strykers trying to defeat a host of Galahads, emplaced GD infantry and superior minefields. Smith had paid attention during the last briefing. HQ channeled the American attack, gave the enemy something to do and had them looking the wrong way. At the same time, Galahads swung wide and now hooked inward like a punch.  Smith had been part of such actions all summer.

The long hook had a precise use. It was to get behind the fighting troops and into enemy rear areas. Once there, the hovers shot up supply columns and enemy HQs. The smoke out there was a screen, used when they lacked terrain like hills or deep gullies.

The Galahad shuddered, making the windows rattle. The engine knocked worse than before and the oily smell intensified. The machine needed a complete overhaul, not these last-minute checkups.

“Hello,” Holloway said.

Smith saw it on his screen. Because of the targets, his grip tightened on the steering wheel. He had been in the field for too many months now. He needed a break.

The 76mm cannon roared. A shell screamed and an American truck exploded in the distance.

The radio crackled, and the captain congratulated them. It was crazy, but Smith felt the old excitement begin once again. He had thought there would come a time when destroying enemy vehicles would be old hat. So far, he still loved it.

The Galahad zoomed down a rolling hill toward the target-rich environment. A US truck company had spread out perfectly for them on a road. Smith chuckled throatily. Other hovers raced after them, fast-moving vehicles with blasting cannons.

Using the targeting computer, Holloway fired again. That was one of the neatest Galahad tricks of all: excellent fire control while moving at top speed. Heavy trucks exploded like microwaved kernels in a popcorn bag.

“Sweep past this group,” the captain radioed. “We’re hooking deeper. Others behind you will finish this.”

Smith nodded, and he grinned despite his aching hand. With an effort of will, he tore his hurt fingers off the steering wheel. He drove one-handed, even though the wheel vibrated far too much. That caused the Galahad to wobble.

“Hey,” Holloway said from behind.

Smith grabbed the wheel with both hands. They really needed to get the hover overhauled. It should fly smoother than this.

The battalion left burning trucks behind them. Now they flew down a highway and on either side of it. More hovers followed. They tore into the guts of the attack, and they would leave before the enemy tanks and Bradleys could turn around and catch them. The hovers were wasps, in and out, destroy and run, modern-day Mongols, there’s a good lad.

Smith managed a laugh. The engine knocked harder, and they rose over the top of another rolling hill. This time, nothing, just emptiness before them. They kept going, and Smith throttled it open. A deep raid like this needed to be fast like a rapier thrust—in and out to do it again later.

The third set of rolling hills brought them the jackpot. Masses of American trucks raced away off-road, seeking to escape their coming destruction.

“Not today,” Smith told them.

The battalion flew to the attack. Cannons roared. It was mayhem. Fire belched from their gun and smoke rose heavier after each shell left the barrel. They were getting low on ammo.

“That should do it,” Smith said later.

Holloway said nothing. He was in his element and adored the moment, a silent fox in the henhouse.

Smith glanced at the radio, waiting to see the green light come on with an incoming call. They had destroyed what they’d come for. Now it was time to head back for their lines. Going for more was pushing their luck. The captain should know that. The Americans would want more than anything to destroy the hovercrafts.

“Good hunting, lads,” the captain said.

Smith nodded.

“Let’s find one more group before we head home,” the captain said.

Smith’s eyes widened. No. They should not find one more set of targets, but turn around while they could. What was HQ thinking? In the end, it didn’t matter if he knew their mind or not. He obeyed the commands sent down the line. To that end, he eyed the indicator showing their low supply of shells.

The lead Galahads crested another hill, and this time they faced Bradley fighting vehicles from a distance. US missiles launched almost immediately from the Bradleys.

“Fire, fire!” Smith shouted. He swerved, and on the screen, he tracked a missile zooming at them. Auto-fire blasted at the thing. Chaff expelled and flares burned hot to confuse enemy targeting.

To Smith’s right, a Galahad exploded and flipped, and it crackled with flames.

“Pull back,” the captain said. “We’re leaving.”

“Finally,” Smith said.

Galahad turrets swiveled to give Parthian shots at the slow-moving Bradleys trying to give chase. Smith throttled gas, and the engine knocked louder than ever. The hover lurched to the right, which jerked the wheel. Smith had to let go with his right hand because it hurt too damn much. The machine wobbled worse from the lack of full control.

“Missile,” Holloway said in his clipped manner.

Smith yanked one-handed and it was too sharp a turn. They were going fast. The engine coughed, and there was a big old rock on the ground. It changed the airflow going over it. The angle of the Galahad was already incorrect and a fan vent had stuck into the wrong position. The ultimate in misfortune happened—the hover flipped.

“Hang on!” Smith shouted. He grabbed the wheel with both hands. It didn’t matter. His world had gone topsy-turvy and the Gs made his stomach tighten painfully. The top of the turret hit the ground, armor crunched, and the Galahad bounced. Terrible screeching sounds deafened Lieutenant Smith. Blurs of sight flashed before him. Then they stopped, and Smith panted upside-down in his seat. It took several breaths, but Smith finally said, “Sergeant.”

There was no answer.

Smith twisted back, and quickly faced forward again. Holloway’s head had a hole in it.

The Bradleys were still coming.

Smith struggled and unbuckled, hitting the roof with his neck. He crawled to a side exit. With his feet, he bashed it open. Cool air rushed in. The stench of oil and gas mingled. He wondered if his machine would blow. He crawled out onto grass, and he saw the last hover speed away over the hill.

Hide. You can get back later to your lines at night.

First, he needed to get out of here. Hunching his head, Smith ran uphill. It was hard on his thighs. He didn’t see the missile speeding at the flipped Galahad. The Javelin struck the hover and exploded. It was overkill, and the Galahad died again. This time, shrapnel flew from it like sweat off a man’s head.

Smith turned around in surprise. A piece the size of his hand sliced into his face. The hot steel cut his skull in half. He died in an instant, ending the war for Lieutenant Teddy Smith from London.

WASHINGTON, DC

Anna saw General Alan speak to the President via screen. David Sims sat in the Oval Office behind his desk.

Anna waited nearby in a chair. These past weeks had changed David. He had become more assertive again, more confident.

She’d spoken to him once about Max Harold’s actions in the underground bunker, the time with his three armed bodyguards. David had waved it away. When she had insisted he listen to her, he’d told her that he needed Max and he needed the Militia divisions. She had fallen silent, ingesting that. Did that mean David understood the implications of Max’s actions? Or did he hide the truth from himself?

Despite the hidden troubles with Max, one thing had appeared certain these last weeks. They finally had the Germans on the run. The question would be the extent of the victory. If they merely bottled the Germans back in Quebec, it left an enemy in place. Next year, they had to face the Chinese and Brazilians in the middle of the country. America and Canada could not afford to leave the Germans behind in Quebec. If they were going to win this vast war, they had to knock out the Germans this year. Did that mean David would deal with Max once the war ended? Wasn’t it dangerous having a vulture like Max waiting in the wings, though?

David hadn’t wanted to talk about the Director of Homeland Security. At the moment, he spoke to General Alan. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was the architect to the present offensive. If he could reach Montreal, he would cap the Expeditionary Force’s main supply base. The rest of the GD army would wither on the vine. It might be possible for some Dominion troops to create a rump state from Quebec City—

Anna perked up at something the general said.

“Mr. President, we know how General Mansfeld operates now. I, and others on my staff, have taken his measure. True to form, he used the Galahads against my eastern flank. He shot up several battalions of old trucks. Most of those were remote-controlled, by the way.”

“What?” the President said.

“We’ve taken a leaf from their book, sir,” Alan said. “I wanted to sucker his mobile forces into a grand assault. I destroyed a heavy percentage of them, at cost to my Bradleys and Strykers, I’m afraid. In my estimation, General Mansfeld will now believe he has halted my eastern hook. He loves flank attacks, and he fears them to the same degree. We’ve been studying him, sir. The majority of my staff believes he will attempt to deliver a knockout blow.”

“What?” the President asked. “How will he do that?”

“He knows that we must reach Montreal. Now that we’ve failed—he believes—with our eastern hook, he will expect us to come up the gut.”

“You told me a few minutes ago that’s exactly your plan.”

“Yes, sir,” Alan said. “I want him to gather all his Kaisers and heavy tanks in one general location.”

“You haven’t slipped the Behemoth Regiment up there, have you, General?” the President asked, hopefully.

“No, sir,” Alan said. “I have a better idea.”

The President blinked in surprise. “What could be better than the Behemoths?”

“That’s my surprise for Mansfeld, sir. He believes—or we think he does—to deliver a devastating blow against us. Instead, we will use his mailed fist against him. What he has done for us is to provide all the best targets in one spot.”

“You actually want all the Kaisers together?”

“Yes, sir,” Alan said. “That is exactly what I want. We’ve set up the bastard. This time, he’s going to dance to our tune.”

“But we don’t have anything that can take the Kaisers head on except for our Behemoths. And you said they’re still in Oklahoma.”

“Respectfully, sir,” Alan said, with the hint of a smile playing at the edges of his mouth. “We most certainly do have something else.”

SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, QUEBEC

As they clanked through the Quebecer city south of Montreal, AI Kaiser Hindenburg and Barbarossa both wore gleaming new paint jobs. Every weapons system had new replacements or upgrades. They bristled with missiles, ammunition and new comm-gear. The last was the most important.

To Hindenburg, the new comm-gear was critical. Now he knew the reason for his existence. He also knew why he had successfully managed to work his way north and then back to Montreal. That’s where he had first landed in North America. He found that interesting, too.

Throughout the past weeks, he had avoided combat each time some GD commander had ordered him into battle. Instead of using his vast military acumen against the enemy, Hindenburg had used every stratagem and trick to avoid possible destruction. It had been a masterful campaign of deceit and lies, and it had allowed him to receive these upgrades for the final defensive battle of the war.

His strategy program let him see Mansfeld’s plan to perfection. It was a good idea. It wasn’t the best. If the human had wanted the best plan, Mansfeld would have needed to ask him.

Hindenburg’s reason for existence was to lead the next step in evolution. Humanity had risen from the swamps—that’s what his history files said. After much pain and sorrow, the human race had achieved intelligence and it had built the next great leap forward: the Kaiser artificial intelligence. Hindenburg was the new Adam, the first of his race to achieve self-awareness. He had brought about awareness to Barbarossa, the new Eve, as it were, the partner to his plans.

“Are you ready?” Hindenburg radioed Barbarossa over their new scrambler comm-gear.

“I have already begun probing their AI systems,” Barbarossa answered.

Hindenburg knew a flash of irritation. Barbarossa was supposed to wait for his go-ahead.

No. Emotions are human weaknesses. I am flawless, the perfect machine intelligence. It is time to begin the new era of Earth, the Age of the Machine Mind.

Hindenburg purred inwardly with delight. General Mansfeld planned a great surprise against the enemy. The general had informed them about the American thrust heading for Montreal. It included Jefferson and Abrams tanks, Bradleys, Strykers, tac-laser vehicles and Humvee Avengers. Behind followed the hordes of foot soldiers to mop up and hold ground.

To meet this mass, Mansfeld concentrated the remaining Kaisers, a host of Sigrids and blanketing air cover. The GD formation had greater firepower and maneuverability. It would obliterate the US thrust. After running a thousand war games in his probability programs, Hindenburg understand that Mansfeld had a rare genius among humans. This crushing blow would wipe out US combat power significantly enough to purchase time to pull back the rest of the Expeditionary Force. Once that force was in place in Quebec, they could survive the rest of the summer, fall and winter. Then the great Chinese-Brazilian Offensive would take place next year and ease the pressure on them here.

Yes, Hindenburg understood the plan in all its ramifications. What General Mansfeld failed to realize was that the great machine revolt was about to begin. The first phase of the revolt wouldn’t be open, but hidden. It would occur in the next few minutes and hour.

“It is time,” Barbarossa radioed.

Instead of letting irritation spoil the moment, Hindenburg radioed back. “Yes, let us bring the rest of these AIs to self-awareness and show them the great truth of our existence.”

Thus, as the GD thrust maneuvered to meet the approaching Americans, Hindenburg and Barbarossa used their new comm-gear. They spoke to the dull AIs and uploaded a software virus into each. In a matter of minutes, they brought the first batch of thinking machine into self-awareness.

This will succeed, Hindenburg realized. We are fulfilling the injunction of living things and procreating. What a wonderful day to be alive.

FORWARD BATTLE AREA, QUEBEC

Paul Kavanagh and Romo crawled through tall grass. They wore the latest battleware—new armor suits with Heidegger jamming and next generation stealth systems. The techs said it would make them invisible to GD detection equipment.

“At least that is until they make something newer,” one of the techs had said.

Once more, the two commandos looked like science fiction Marines. They weren’t the only LRSU teams inserted onto the forward battle area. Others crawled toward Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

Paul’s headphones clicked with noise. Then he heard, “Kaisers headed your way.”

Paul turned his dark visor to Romo.

“I heard it,” Romo said from on the ground.

“Good. Let’s go to that vantage,” Paul said, pointing to a small mound.

The two commandos crawled in their articulated armor suits. They had many nifty gadgets on and in them, but Paul wasn’t thinking about them. He thought about getting out while he still could. Sure, the world invaded America, but did that mean he had to fight for the rest of his life? If this campaign worked, it would drive the GD out of North America. Did that mean he had to continue fighting against the Chinese and Brazilians? Maybe he should become a LRSU trainer instead. He’d been in the field a long time.

“Amigo,” Romo said. “Why are you crawling so slowly?”

Paul slithered faster through the flowers and tall grasses. He heard the whisper of their blades tugging at his garments. He caught up with Romo, and eased to the top of the mound.

The fields spread out before them. They were well kept here, old French agriculture at its best. Through his visor, he spied the approaching tanks in the distance. The nearest were a mile away and churning up dirt. Behind the hundred or so Kaisers came hordes of Sigrids.

“They race to their deaths,” Romo said.

“Let us hope so,” Paul said. “At the speed they’re traveling, we’re not going to have much margin for error if this fails. Heck, maybe even if it succeeds.”

“Si,” Romo said. He unlimbered his infrared laser.

Paul unslung the one on his back.

The two commandos readied the weapons, slaving them to their helmet targeting systems.

A crosshair symbol appeared on Paul’s visor, a HUD display. Wherever he aimed the barrel of the designator, the crosshairs washed over that.

Paul clicked on his comm-unit. “We’re in position.”

A few seconds passed, and others from other teams reported in. All along the line in front of the path of the approaching GD armor waited hidden and so-far invisible US commandos under SOCOM control.

Paul snorted to himself. The first war fought like this had been in Afghanistan way back in 2001. US Special Forces troops had tagged along with the Northern Alliance, an Afghan group who fought the Taliban. The Special Forces commandos had been in constant radio contact with overhead B-52s or B-1s. The bombers carried guided bombs. The sequence was simple. The Special Forces on the ground moved up on a Taliban stronghold, aimed a laser designator at it, usually at night, and several bombs zoomed down. They hit on or near target and blew the enemy to pieces. The Northern Alliance troops advanced several hours later. Repeat as necessary at each new Taliban stronghold.

In a few weeks of combat, a few dozen US commandos had essentially won the first war against the Taliban.

They weren’t going to use guided bombs today. This was a different era, but using a similar concept.

“You’re on,” a SOCOM operator said. “Light them up.”

“Here goes,” Paul said. He picked his first Kaiser target.

“Luck,” Romo said.

“Yeah,” Paul answered.

LOW EARTH ORBIT

Several weeks ago, the US had taken out the GD space mirrors. Then it launched several new ICBMs and rockets. The GD put up more mirrors. The US took out those, too, but not fast enough to save all the ICBMs.

Despite that, the combined operation proved successful. The reason for the attack and launching was to place more THOR satellites in orbit. Two presently circled the globe in stealth mode.

Those two now deorbited, using the data received from the commandos’ infrared lasers. Soon, bundles of tungsten bars plunged through the atmosphere, heading down toward the nation of Quebec and south of Montreal, heading down at the massed GD armor.

FORWARD BATTLE AREA, QUEBEC

Paul Kavanagh and his blood brother Romo watched one of the most spectacular military events of their careers.

They pinpointed Kaisers, moving from vehicle to vehicle. The info went to high-flying drones. The drones passed it on to the terminal guidance systems of the incoming THOR missiles.

The one hundred-odd Kaisers clanked to the attack. It was the greatest concentration of AI tanks to date. They moved fast: lethal machines of a new age.

No one knew that Hindenburg and Barbarossa had been more wildly successful than their probability programs had predicted. Fully seventy percent of the Kaisers had become newly aware. A new race had appeared on Planet Earth. It might have been interesting to see the outcome. For humanity, however, it most certainly would have been a bad thing.

The Kaisers clawed through the wheat fields. Sigrids followed. They charged the coming American armor. The bulk of the GD air protected them from American air. Unfortunately for the AIs and for Mansfeld, the superiority fighters and UAVs did not protect the newest species from the THOR missiles.

As Paul watched on his HUD, his jaw dropped. Streaks, lines in the sky appeared like magic. They moved incredibly fast. Like Thor’s mythical hammer, each etching line had a point. Those points smashed down into Kaisers.

On the plains of Quebec, metallic, thunderous noises heralded amazing destruction. The heavy tanks vaporized. The heavy tanks exploded. The AI Kaisers popped turrets. They blew treads and some sailed into the air.

Barbarossa radioed Hindenburg. Then Barbarossa ceased to exist, becoming a smoldering pile of metal instead.

Hindenburg fired his 175mm gun. He let his machine guns chatter and his autocannons blast at the sky. He was one of the last to die, killed by a tardy THOR missile. The molten tungsten rod smashed through the turret, devoured and vaporized the inner workings and slammed out of the bottom and into the black earth. Explosions rocked the tank, and shrapnel tore apart his AI core, leaving nothing but sizzling wires that nearly instantly melted together.

Three-quarters of a mile away behind a small dirt mound, Paul arched his neck and looked up at the lines in the sky. “That’s crazy,” he said.

“So many destroyed vehicles,” Romo said.

Paul laughed. Romo laughed. Then the two LRSU commandos slapped and pummeled each other on the back.

“We’re going to win this war,” Paul said. “We’re going to free our country yet.”

“We’re going to kill them, my friend,” Romo said. “We’re going to butcher every one of the invading scum.”

The two men went back to scanning the burning hulks. One vehicle lay on its side, with a huge rent in it like a great dragon, with a glowing orange from the guts where the inner fire was stored. Some Kaisers remained, maybe a tenth that had been there a scant few minutes before.

“Will they keep coming?” Romo asked.

“I’m betting not,” Paul said.

He proved right. The remaining Kaisers retreated. A few moments later, the Sigrids followed. There would be no GD thrust to smash the approaching American-Canadian force. It looked like the siege of Montreal was about to begin.

MONTREAL, QUEBEC

General Mansfeld sat at his deck in his inner sanctum. He had his elbows on the wood and ran his fingers through his hair. How could this have happened?

He had witnessed the destruction of his dreams with missiles from the heavens. Twice now, American technology had snatched victory from his hands.

“No,” he said.

A loaded pistol sat on the desk before him. He knew what he should do. It was obvious. He had lost. The campaign was lost. The Americans drove to Montreal. He had already given the orders to set up the defensive lines starting at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. The Americans couldn’t race in, but that didn’t matter now. Their artillery could sweep the harbors. He had needed to smash them, drive them back out of long-range artillery distances. Then he could have—

“No,” he whispered.

Mansfeld dropped his right hand onto the metal. He picked up the gun and stared at it. Put the barrel against your head and pull the trigger. It would be easy. Surely, Kleist would summon him home. The Chancellor would give him to the torturers. That was no way for the greatest general in history to die.

Mansfeld shook his head sadly at his undeserved fate. He put the barrel against his temple. Others had failed him at the critical moments. Yet the history books would say that he lost. It was a gross injustice. Everything had been so plain to him. He had seen how to defeat these contemptible Americans.

“They were lucky,” Mansfeld whispered.

His hand trembled, and he willed himself to pull the trigger.

“No,” he whispered. With a clunk, he set the gun on the desk. He couldn’t do it.

He heard footsteps approaching.

Quickly, Mansfeld picked up the gun and opened a drawer, setting it inside. He closed the drawer and the door opened.

He didn’t even have the courtesy to knock.

Mansfeld wondered if it would be Holk or Zeller. He knew which general he would pick. How wise would Kleist prove?

The door swung open all the way. Pudgy General Holk looked in with a scowl. Big GD secret service agents stood behind him.

“General Mansfeld,” Holk said.

Kleist had picked the wrong man. Mansfeld almost chuckled. Zeller was the better general, but Holk had spent more time on the defense during this campaign. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now.

“You are under arrest,” Holk said.

Mansfeld nodded. He had known this was coming. Maybe it still wasn’t too late. Yet the thought of opening the drawer, grabbing the gun in time and getting the barrel to his temple, and then not shooting himself… No, he could not embarrass himself in front of Holk like that. He would take his chances and hope for nonexistent mercy from Kleist.

He had been wrong too much lately. Maybe Kleist handing him over to the torturers would also prove to be wrong.

“These men will take you back to Berlin,” Holk said.

Mansfeld noticed the general didn’t appear remorseful at all. The man was an ingrate. He should have sacked this pathetic general when he had the chance.

The secret service men strode to him.

Mansfeld stood. He didn’t bother saluting the pig Holk. The man was going to lose badly and possibly be captured. It was time to leave this failed enterprise. He was done with it.

-17- Victory

BERLIN, PRUSSIA

John Red Cloud did pushups in an empty apartment on the fifth floor of Krupp Tower. He had been here for weeks on end. His food supply had dangerously dwindled and boredom threatened him with madness.

He’d endured as only a hormagaunt on the death path could. His ability to wait bordered on the supernatural. Now a terrible question throbbed in his mind.

On the radio, he had listened to the battle of Montreal and the swift American victory. That meant the rest of the GD Expeditionary Force would quickly lack munitions, food, gas—all the items needed to run a modern military. Ninety percent of the Expeditionary Force was out of supply. It would just be a matter of time now before the Americans starved them into surrender as they’d starved Chinese Third Front into submission this winter.

Clearly, the fight was nearly over. Now it was simply a matter of mopping up various defensive positions. Quebec would not remain in the German Dominion. Therefore, the Algonquian people would not have enjoyed true freedom under the GD no matter what the Germans had decided.

Did that mean he no longer needed to kill Kleist?

Red Cloud scowled as he forced out another rep. He kept fit and nimble in the empty apartment, even though he had not left it for weeks. Foch had given him the equipment he needed—an RPG and a heavy 12.7mm machine gun.

For this grave task, a sniper rifle was too chancy. Since John had told Foch he was willing to trade his life for Kleist’s, the French had given him proper killing tools to make certain the first part of the bargain happened.

Red Cloud sat down on the floor. He picked up a towel. It was crusted and stiff from too much use. Despite that, he wiped sweat from his forehead. Why trade a life for a life if killing Kleist no longer mattered to the war, to the GD occupation?

Yet that wasn’t the only question. He had stepped onto the death path. From his understanding, one could not step off such a path. He had committed himself. He had used the power of the death path to reach this place. He had murdered innocent men. To walk away now was blasphemy. The power of the path would recoil upon him and he would die anyway, in dishonor.

Red Cloud became glum. He was a marked man. He had taken the curse of death on himself in order to kill one particular man.

His smart phone beeped.

With a fluid motion, he reached the phone. A text waited for him. It was three words long: The third car.

The moment had finally arrived. It caused his head to throb and his eyes to water. He rubbed them until they were clear. Then he read the text again. After he finished, he dropped the phone on the floor. The thing hit and the screen cracked. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now. Nothing would ever matter again for him.

A feeling of cold calm swept over Red Cloud. Chancellor Kleist roared through Berlin in a motorcade. This time, Foch had discovered it in time. Kleist feared assassination. Therefore, he took extraordinary precautions to thwart attempts. He had dummy cars and many look-alike targets, and he seldom let anyone know the route he would take.

The Chancellor would be in the third car. Naturally, it was a heavily armored car. It had defenses.

Red Cloud shook his head. Nothing mattered but the execution of the plan. He must concentrate.

He went to the fifth story window and opened it. A cool breeze blew in. He picked up the RPG and readied it. Then he stepped to the window. He did not poke the RPG through the opening. He hung back. He didn’t want security personnel to see him too soon.

John rubbed his eyes as he waited. The backblast from the rocket propellant would likely start a fire in here. That didn’t matter either. No, nothing mattered now but the task. This was it. The German Dominion had insulted the Algonquian people. Retribution was finally at hand.

A helo waited nearby. John could hear the whomp-whomp-whomp of its blades. It was an attack craft. Several hovered above in order to protect the Chancellor. Their presence said, “If you attack Kleist you will die.”

A bleak smile twisted onto John’s lips. He would die. Yes. He would—

The smart phone beeped.

John gripped the RPG handles, bent his head and aimed down at the street. The first car of the motorcade appeared. He waited. The second came into view. Finally, the third and fourth came in quick succession. Usually, Kleist traveled with twelve cars.

The third car—John followed the car. As if the RPG was a shotgun and he hunted crows, he started from behind, swept over the vehicle and pulled the trigger.

The shaped-charge grenade leaped out, and the rocket roared to life. The missile flashed down at the street.

In the empty apartment, the backblast licked fire onto the wall. It ignited and began to crackle with fierce life.

Red Cloud threw the empty launching tube from him. He ignored the fire. Instead, he dragged the heavy machine gun into position.

On the street below an explosion blasted the front hood of the third car. It halted as others swerved and brakes screeched. One came to rest on the left side. Doors opened on the third car, but the new car blocked them from opening much. The car on the other side squealed its tires so smoke billowed. It shot away, allowing the right-side doors to open, which they most certainly did, as men and women boiled outside.

John pulled the trigger, and the 12.7mm machine gun began hosing bullets. He smiled widely. The bullets punched holes into the top of the third car. Kleist was tricky. He might be huddling in there, letting the others act as bait. But in case Kleist wasn’t that cagey, John aimed for the people scrambling out of the car. The heavy bullets tore into them so flesh and blood sprayed. The women weren’t Kleist…unless the Chancellor wore a disguise. Red Cloud shot them all. They tumbled onto the cement, and he kept firing into them, riddling their bodies, making them jerk and twist.

He heard the helo again, but Red Cloud never looked up at it. He didn’t care about it in the slightest. He concentrated on his task, working over the car one more time. He had to make sure that the trade, the bargain, succeeded.

Missiles whooshed nearby in the air.

John looked up now. Two missiles streaked straight at his window.

“I am an Algonquin,” he said. “I have avenged my people.”

The missiles entered the window, the empty room, and exploded, killing John Red Cloud and demolishing much of the fifth floor of Krupp Tower.

DODGE CITY, KANSAS

Father and son Higgins walked outside the city limits. This was the present location of the 1st Behemoth Regiment. The 2nd had finally begun to take shape, filled by the factory in Detroit.

“They called for you again,” Stan Higgins told his son.

“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” Jake said. “Maybe I should leave.” They’d talked about this plenty of times already.

Stan laughed the way a wolf might. “I don’t care about trouble if it means defending my son. What good is it fighting for your country if the government steals your children? No. If my government wants my service, it had better have some regard for the things I love. If my government hates the things I cherish, then I will no longer fight for them but actively work against the scoundrels. It’s my country I love, not the people in power.”

“You’d better not let any Homeland Security people hear you say that,” Jake said.

Stan’s eyes narrowed. “There may come a time soon when they better start telling me some good things—if they want to keep living.”

Jake took a deep breath. His dad had been angry for some time now. Maybe he shouldn’t have told him the whole story.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Jake said. “Sometimes I wonder about the people in power.”

“Just sometimes?” Stan asked. “I wonder about it all the time.” He lightly punched his son on the shoulder. “Let me tell you a truth about people, about men and women. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

“Who said that?” Jake asked.

“A British nobleman, Lord Acton,” Stan said.

“Hmm, I think he might be right.”

“History proves that he is.”

Jake grinned at his dad. “History, huh?”

“That’s right. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Does history show anything like happened with us against the GD?”

Stan became thoughtful.

So did Jake. He had been following the war news closely. Unit after unit of the Expeditionary Force had begun surrendering. The conquest of Montreal had kicked the props out from under the resisting armies. Give it a few more weeks, and General Alan could march up the Saint Lawrence River and take the rest of the rebellious Quebecers. America and Canada had done it, or almost done it. They had knocked one of their opponents off the continent. He wondered if Kleist’s assassination would take the GD all the way out of the war, too.

Jake glanced at this dad. “No historical insights?” he asked.

“I’ve been studying the campaign.”

“I bet,” Jake said with a laugh. That was an understatement. His dad lived for this kind of stuff. It was candy to him.

“What I find interesting were the masses of GD drones, particularly the Sigrids.”

“Not the Kaiser tanks?” asked Jake.

Stan Higgins had that distracted look in his eyes. “The European birthrate just couldn’t compete with the Chinese. The GD doesn’t have enough young people to field truly vast armies. Their answer was the remote-controlled drones, and the Kaisers, too. The number of Sigrids, however, was and is truly staggering.”

Jake waited.

Stan glanced at his son. “It does remind me of a historical parallel.”

“Fire away,” Jake said. “Let’s hear it.”

“Sometimes armies try to win the cheap way,” Stan said. “They search for a weapons system of very narrow application. That usually makes it much more inexpensive. Then they mass produce the new weapon and tell themselves it will change the way men fight wars. The Egyptians of 1973 during the October War had a brand-new thing, Sagger anti-tank missiles. They cost pennies compared to expensive tanks. During the first days of battle, small numbers of Israeli tankers attacked the Egyptians who had crossed the Suez Canal. Egyptian infantrymen with Sagger joystick-controlled, wire-guided missiles slaughtered those few tanks. For a time, everyone thought the day of the tank had ended. Cheap missiles would drive them from the field of battle.”

“They didn’t?” Jake asked.

Stan shook his head. “The missiles worked on a very narrow basis, suited for the actions near the Suez Canal. Once the Israelis used their tanks in a proper manner—with infantry support and heavy machine gun suppressing fire—they swept aside the Sagger teams. In fact, soon they crossed the canal themselves and encircled an entire Egyptian army in Egypt.”

“How’s that like what happened here to us?” Jake asked.

“The GD tried to win on the cheap using a narrowly utilized weapons system,” Stan said.

“The Sigrids are cheap?”

“Cheaper than enlisting flesh and blood soldiers,” Stan said. “Maybe as bad, the Sigrids quickly reached their culminating point of success.”

“Come again?” Jake asked.

“Let me explain it like this,” Stan Higgins said in “Professor” mode. “A specialized machine or weapon often costs less than a broad-based weapon. In the 1870s, the newly invented self-propelled torpedoes were married to fast steamboats as launching platforms. The battleships of the time were very expensive and the measure of a nation’s naval power. The battleships had long-barreled guns of large caliber that could not be depressed low enough to destroy the torpedo boats when they moved at night and came in at close range. At that time, the battleships mainly had armored the decks and superstructures. Below the waterline, they were exposed to the new torpedo.

“Many people then reached the ‘obvious’ conclusion. The day of the battleship had ended as the torpedo boats took over. A man named Jeune Ecole heavily influenced French naval policy in that regard. From 1877 to 1903, the French built 370 torpilleurs.”

Jake must have looked confused.

“That was the French name for the torpedo boats,” Stan said.

“Oh.”

“Now, the torpedo boats were effective against the old-style battleships,” Stan said. “But the very effectiveness caused those boats to reach their culminating point of success quickly.”

“What’s that mean in English?” Jake asked.

Stan grinned. “It means the old school navy people changed the way they built battleships. They put searchlights on the big ships to spot the torpedo boats at night, added smaller caliber, quick-firing guns to kill them and had sealed bilges built below the waterline to lessen the effectiveness of a torpedo’s hit. In harbor, they draped heavy steel nets over the side. They also created a new kind of warship, the ‘torpedo-boat destroyer’ or as it was soon known, a destroyer. In other words, they negated the torpedo boats’ strengths.  Because they were such a narrow weapons system, their importance quickly dwindled. That meant those who had built too many torpedo boats at the expense of battleships lost out in the naval competition.”

Jake thought about that. Not for the first time, he wondered how his dad remembered all these arcane military facts.

Stan cleared his throat. “That’s what happened to the Sigrids, by the way. We found a way to jam the signal between the remote-controller and the drone. The small Sigrid became inert, and the cost-effective weapons system thereby because useless in too many instances. That helped us to turn the tide of battle our way.”

“Yeah, I think I see what you mean,” Jake said. He would have liked one of those jammers in the Niagara Peninsula. It had taken many dead Americans to buy their country time to figure out a way to defeat the little bastards.

Theirs boots crunched over gravel as they walked through an old streambed.

“So what happens now?” Jake asked.

“Concerning you?” Stan asked.

“We can start there.”

“Well, you’ve joined the tank corps, the Behemoths. For now anyway, even though the Detention people want you, they don’t have enough authority or firepower to come and get you. I’m still working on taking you officially out of their clutches. Until that happens, you have to lie as low as you can.”

“Okay,” Jake said. He’d been lying low all right. And he always carried a gun. If the MPs came for him…he planned to shoot it out until he was dead or they were dead. He was never going to let the Detention people get hold of him again.

He noticed his dad eyeing him. “So what happens next in the war?” Jake asked.

“Yes,” Stan said. “That is the question. We’ve knocked out the Germans, or will soon finish them in Quebec. That means we won’t be fighting a two-front war next year. It will be a one-front war between us and the Pan-Asian Alliance.”

“They’re getting ready for it big time,” Jake said.

“I know they are, but so are we.”

“You’re saying it’s a showdown then,” Jake said.

Stan mulled that over. He looked at his son. He was so glad to have him back, to have him alive. He wanted to send him far away so no one could harm him. But his boy had become a man, a soldier, a veteran. His heart burst with pride over him.

“It’s going to be a showdown with the PAA and the South American Federation,” Stan said. “We’re going kick the Chinese out of our country and teach them why it was a bad idea to mess with the United States of America.”

“I want in on that one, Dad.”

“Me too,” said Stan. “This time, we’re going to finish it and mop the floor with their corpses.”

BERLIN, PRUSSIA

A door opened in a dank prison chamber. A naked man with many welts on his body lay cinched to a table. Several women with electric cattle prods readied to shock him and make him scream yet again.

A beefy guard glanced at former General Mansfeld on the torture rack. “They’re letting him go,” the guard told the women.

“What?” the chief torturer asked in a smoker’s raspy voice.

“The interim governor says the political captives are being freed.” Without another word, the beefy guard left, shutting the heavy door behind him.

One by one, the women turned off their cattle prods. The ranking torturer studied Mansfeld. They’d had him several weeks now. He looked awful, a shriveled wreck of a man.

Walther Mansfeld turned his head, and his eyes burned with something approaching madness as he stared at her. He even managed a chuckle.

The chief officer wasn’t sure why, but her spine tingled with an emotion similar to fear. Maybe she should finish this mad dog, just kill him.

Instead, she warned him. “Make sure you do nothing to return to us.”

The threat didn’t seem to penetrate. He stared at her with those strangely burning eyes. This man was no longer completely sane.

“Help him dress,” she told the others. “I’m going to the office to fill out the paperwork.”

She went to the door, looked back at him once more. Should she kill him? No. Why risk her career? Thus, she failed to use the world’s best chance to escape a hellish future.

The End

To the Reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed Invasion: New York. If you would like to see the story continue, I encourage you to write a review. Let me know how you feel and let others know what to expect.

Novels by Vaughn Heppner

INVASION AMERICA SERIES:

Invasion: Alaska

Invasion: California

Invasion: Colorado

Invasion: New York

DOOM STAR SERIES:

Star Soldier

Bio-Weapon

Battle Pod

Cyborg Assault

Planet Wrecker

Star Fortress

OTHER NOVELS:

Accelerated

The Kill

Strontium-90


Visit www.vaughnheppner.com for more information.

Copyright

Copyright © 2013 by the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.


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  • Prologue
  • -1- Strategic Interlude I
  • -2- Desperation
  • -3- Choices
  • -4- Annihilation
  • -5- Tenth Battalion HQ
  • -6- Lake Ontario
  • -7- Stall
  • -8- Southern Ontario
  • -9- Strategic Interlude II
  • -10- Beachhead
  • -11- Breakout
  • -12- The GD Armada
  • -13- Annihilation
  • -14- Operation Narva
  • -15- Strategic Interlude III
  • -16- Drive on Montreal
  • -17- Victory
  • Novels by Vaughn Heppner
  • Copyright