Dark Dragons

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Chapter 14 - Spears And Rocks

13

SPEARS AND ROCKS

Thursday, May 20

Caliban quickly sat up in his recliner, startled for some reason. His eyes scanned the room, and for a second, he thought he heard——voices?——a familiar buzzing in his head, a feeling he had not felt for a long, long time.

He vaulted out of the recliner and paced around his cell, eyes still wandering across the ceiling. They were voices. He could plainly hear them, as clear as interstellar space.

Caliban swooned where he stood. I am here, glorious Invicid . . . hear me.

*

The yellow line arcing up from Carrier Strike Group Nine turned red. Two ScramHawks, one from the Cape St. George and the other from the submarine Michigan, were away. Towsley took another sip from his Diet Coke and paced nervously back to a spot behind Major Hilly’s console station, stood there for a few seconds, and returned to General Taggart’s side. The general had become a statue for the last ten minutes with his hands behind his back, headset on, and an impassive gaze which had not left the front high-definition screens. With just a bit of jocosity, Towsley imagined the same pose captured in bronze outside Doolittle Hall at the Air Force Academy.

More and more SAM flight trajectories were turning from yellow to red as all naval CSG’s launched their ScramHawks.

“Beale PAVE PAWS indicates first intercept in five minutes, thirty-nine seconds,” Major Hilly said into his headset for the officers in the COC to hear.

*

Over Continent Group Three, twenty-two high speed objects were racing up into the atmosphere to intercept the eleven kinetic asteroid weapons targeting the human surveillance sites. So easy . . . such a disappointment.

Sryik-of-the-Three-Suns felt a warm glow in the chest as it selected twenty-two singularity missiles for air-to-air intercept and gave the thought-command to fire. After the last weapon shot away, Sryik-of-the-Three-Suns turned its Dragonstar east to intercept the human missiles over Continent Group One.

*

“What the hell are those?” Taggart asked.

PAVE PAWS suddenly had radar locks on twenty-two unidentified objects, each with tangent velocities of MACH twenty-three, an incredible 5.4 miles per second. They had originated from a single point in space 457 miles above the western United States.

“Oh my god, they’re air-to-air missiles,” Towsley said. “They’re targeting the ScramHawks.”

The supercomputers under the COC plotted speed, course and time on intercept data, and computed that none of the ScramHawks over North America would reach the inbound asteroids.

“Fuck!” Taggart tore off his headset and smashed it on the floor at his feet.

Towsley knew of the horrifying physics behind asteroid impacts, especially the little, dirty ones. Asteroids smaller than two hundred feet in diameter were, because of their size, doomed to explode in the air before reaching the ground. The sudden deceleration due to heavy air resistance encountered in the lower stratosphere caused intense heat and pressure, resulting in a massive airburst and a fireball of infrared radiation that could vaporize everything out to twenty miles in radius. The core of the superheated fireball, however, would still retain its cosmic speed due to kinetic momentum and plunge into the ground, creating a crater seven times the diameter of the original asteroid. The end result was nothing short of a nuclear-like explosion.

The red ScramHawk trajectory line and its attached FCD box over Beale Air Force Base suddenly disappeared from the screen. Then the GEODSS site in Socorro, New Mexico . . . then the PAVE PAWS radar at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska. . . .

Towsley closed his eyes.

*

George Harlan did not have time to close his eyes. His eyelids had already been seared from his face along with the rest of his skin and clothes facing east toward the vaporizing flash ten miles away above Beale. Black smoke roiled off the eastern side of every object around him. He wanted to scream but couldn’t. Three seconds ago, he had been pumping gas into his Chevy truck at a Citgo, shouting at his daughter in the backseat to stop teasing her little brother, but now George was on fire, thrashing his arms about and wondering why he and everything around him was ablaze: the gas station, the trees, the Taco Bell next door, the hot chick with the big boobs squeegeeing her windshield.

George Harlan had one last look at his four year-old son strapped in his carseat, clapping his hands to daddy’s new trick before an ear-splitting, 1,200-mph shockwave blew him, his truck, his kids and the world around him into oblivion.

*

Medusa Stare trained one of its 8-inch visible-light telescopes in the vessel’s direction and jumped in magnification. Immediately, a fuzzy black-and-white image of an object appeared in the lower corner of the top screen, and the subtle discord in the COC fell silent. A green highlight square appeared around the image and jumped forward to fill the entire screen. The computers aboard Medusa Stare brought the monster from deep space into focus.

On a smaller 72-inch HD screen on the lower left front wall, a monitor reserved for civilian news broadcast, the words ABC News Special Report suddenly appeared. Towsley reached down on his console and toggled his headset to that TV monitor.

“Good evening, I’m Brad Younger reporting from ABC studios in New York City. Our affiliate in Sacramento, California, KXTV, is reporting of what appears to be a massive explosion from the vicinity of Beale Air Force Base which is forty miles north of the California capital. There are reports of forest fires and shockwaves felt hundreds of miles away. Cell phone traffic coming from Linda, California, a town of seventeen thousand people just ten miles west of Beale Air Force Base, has ceased. We are also receiving reports just now coming in to our studio of other gigantic explosions and shockwaves in Texas and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. All of this is occurring at the same time that a moon-like object has appeared in the skies of Earth. For those living in North America, you can see it if you go outside and look southeast just above the horizon. . . .”

There it is. Let the chaos, looting and freeway traffic jams commence. Towsley switched his headset back to the COC’s main comm circuit.

Medusa Stare had track-lock on thirteen unidentified objects in a straight line, speed and sizes unknown, heading for what appeared to be Low Earth Orbit trajectories. But Towsley knew what they were. Darren had mentioned thirty-mile long assault cruisers with X-shaped fuselages and triangular troop carriers moored to them. Medusa Stare signaled that it had detected a fourteenth object, then a fifteenth. Moments later, a total of twenty-one assault cruisers had been cataloged, one-by-one inserting themselves into polar orbits 1,100 miles above the earth’s surface where they would pass over the equator along a different longitude with each orbit. The ScramHawks could never reach them at that altitude.

“National Command Authority has put us at Def-Con One, general,” Admiral Breuer said. “First Air Force reports that our U.S. air defense fighters are scrambling. Global combat forces are also on Alert-One status.”

It won’t matter, Towsley thought. He had a picture in his head of Darren, Tony, Nate and Jorge down in PostOp Two oblivious to the coming apocalypse, milky-white Propofol slithering through their brains, the comas deep, their faces angelic.

“Air Force One has departed Andrews with the NCA and Joint Chiefs aboard,” Admiral Breuer said. He turned to look at General Taggart. “Pentagon says they’re heading here, sir. ETA, twenty-two hundred hours.”

General Taggart did not move in his leather-bound command chair that he liked to call “The Throne” at the back of the COC. The seat had once belonged to Strategic Air Command’s second god of war and its most influential, General Curtis E. LeMay, Taggart’s personal Jesus. The damn thing still had cigar burns on the arm rests.

“Thank you, admiral,” was all that came from the back row.

Morale among the command staff in the COC had definitely turned south.

The Proximity Alarms in the COC went off, and Major Hilly quickly silenced them with the flick of a switch at his station. The alarms were tied into a computer program that searched for unidentified objects picked up by military and civilian airport radars across the United States.

“U.S. Northern Command reports numerous bandits in the atmosphere,” Captain Connors, the chief communications officer said over the COC’s radio net. “Both Western and Eastern Air Defense Sectors are reporting Air National Guard units have visuals on the airborne contacts.”

Towsley knew these had to be fighters like Caliban’s. He was beginning to feel nauseated.

“NORAD has lost contact with Malmstrom Air Force Base . . . Ellsworth Air Force Base.” Captain Connors turned in her seat to look at Towsley. “Barksdale in Louisiana. . . .”

These were America’s ICBM and strategic bomber bases. Towsley looked up at the projection map of North America and saw a single red circle passing northward over the continent along a polar orbit, Medusa Stare providing the tracking data with one of its infrared telescopes. A single Vorvon assault cruiser was knocking out the U.S.’s strategic nuclear sites comfortably from its lofty altitude 1,100 miles up.

A black-and-white live video feed from the satellite displayed a surprisingly detailed image of the 30-mile long vessel. It looked like an elongated clamshell with an X-shaped aft section, forty troop carriers moored to the wings.

A bright light as blinding as an arc welder flared from the tip of the assault cruiser’s clam-shaped fore section, temporarily flooding Medusa Stare’s infrared thermal cameras. At the same time, an equally brilliant flash erupted on the earth’s surface ahead of the ship, producing a rapidly rising mushroom cloud. Some kind of laser cannon or plasma projector. A NORAD operations status box on the screen indicated that communications with Minot AFB, North Dakota, suddenly fell silent. America’s entire armament of Minuteman III ICBM’s had just been defanged by a single alien vessel like so many teeth.

Medusa Stare also visually had locked onto a single vessel that——somehow—— maintained a stationary position 530 miles above North America. The surveillance satellite indicated the ship was just over eleven miles long. It was extremely slender with a bulbous stern which tapered smoothly down to a fine point, resembling a giant turkey baster with a hypodermic needle at the end. Some kind of command and control ship with a long antenna perhaps? A possible target if they could ever reach it.

On the radar projection map, seventeen ScramHawks suddenly appeared from three hidden batteries based in the Rocky Mountains and quickly engaged the alien fighter formations over the U.S., a surprise attack that caught even Towsley unaware. And apparently the enemy. Seventy thousand feet over Missouri, two 9-ship squadrons of alien fighters attempted to peel away from the five SAMs targeting them. They were too slow. The moment the five ScramHawks and eighteen alien vehicles disappeared from the radar screens, a cheer, for the first time, erupted from the men and women in the COC, the wildest coming from the five-man team in the ScramHawk Air Defense pit at the front of the room.

The only problem——the hidden SAM batteries were no longer hidden. Seven squadrons of Vorvon fighters quickly engaged the three air-defense sites, which reminded Towsley with a stinging bit of irony of his old Wild Weasel job. More ScramHawks were loosed upon the incoming enemy. Some missiles made it to their airborne targets, but most were destroyed in mid-flight. Communication with all three SAM batteries suddenly died, and their green computer icons were replaced with blinking red squares on the map screen. Of the sixty-three fighters which had attacked the missile sites, forty-five had survived. No cheers burst from the Air Defense pit this time.

The lightning speed of this uncanny battle and the tenacious ferocity of the enemy were relentless. A dreadful iciness soaked Towsley to his core. It was strange to see the end of the world this way, watching millions of people die from asteroids in the form of red circles and blue triangles flown by valiant U.S. fighter pilots dying by the dozens to protect their airspace from red dots. It was like watching war with an Xbox.

Towsley twisted the cap off his Diet Coke to finish the last two inches, but the bottle never reached his lips. He became aware of a soft hum rising in the center of his head and squint his eyes slightly from the tickling sensation. It built to a gentle vibration across his forehead.

Hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us. . . .

He turned to his right at Admiral Breuer who stared back at him with a look of complete shock and horror on his face, an expression emulated by everyone around the COC. The entire command staff could feel it too. Captain Connors had both hands over her mouth.

Hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us . . . hear us. . . .

General Taggart had finally moved from his chair. He was on his feet with his fingertips to his ears. It was not sound. It wasn’t even English, but the English-speaking staff in the COC somehow understood it.

Hear us . . . hear us . . . we are children of the invicid . . . to the tribes who have left the lands of eridu carefully heed our demand . . . cede to the invicid no less than four million hatchlings under the age of fifteen solars within single half-orbit of the inner most planet. . . .

The ABC News announcer on the civilian TV monitor had stopped speaking, his eyes staring straight ahead and then to someone to his left off screen, turning around in his seat to look behind him at the studio crew at their computers. He faced the camera again, a look of utter dread on his face.

It’s happening everywhere, Towsley realized. Oh my god, everyone can hear it . . . a seven billion person global psychic freak out!

. . . delegation of the invicid will assist the tribes who have left the lands of eridu with this most glorious selection . . . failure to comply with delivery of hatchlings will result in a global punishment which shall now be demonstrated with restraint . . . watch closely . . . watch closely. . . .

Four million hatchlings under the age of fifteen. The telepathic message was clear. Towsley felt that iciness sink deeper. They want our children. They want them all turned over within a half orbit of the planet Mercury——some forty days from now.

“Our Ku-bands are being compromised,” Captain Connors reported over the COC radio net. “C-band, Q-band, all commercial satellite telecommunication signals are being hacked.”

ABC News had gone static on the civilian monitor. But a mysterious image was trying to break through, a snap shot of something fading in and out of the static.

Watch closely . . . watch closely . . . watch closely. . . .

“We’re receiving an ATSC standard MPEG-Two downlink on our civilian monitors. All microwave receivers across the U.S. are being pirated.”

“Put it on the top monitor,” Taggart ordered.

The top high-definition screen displayed the static-filled ABC broadcast, but seconds later, the TV snow disappeared. In its place, a green night vision image appeared of the strange hypodermic needle ship now pointing downward toward the Earth’s surface. The needle had elongated deeper into the atmosphere over what looked like a bubble which had formed around Washington D.C. Towsley recognized the area of the U.S. capital because he could see Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware peninsula to the east and the widening Potomac River to the south curving its way toward the Atlantic. The bubble looked to be around five or six miles in diameter.

“Where’s this image coming from?” General Taggart asked.

“It’s not coming from any of our transponders,” Captain Connors answered. “No piggy-back ID codes attached.”

“The aliens are broadcasting the visual, general,” Towsley said. “I think we’re watching enemy PSYOPS. Every American TV station is receiving this.”

“We’ve lost contact with the National Military Command Center,” Captain Connors said. There was a pause as she ran down a list of D.C. area posts to check. “All traffic coming out of the Pentagon has ceased. Nothing from Anacostia-Bolling or the Coast Guard Station there either. We’re still picking up traffic from Joint Base Andrews.”

“Get someone on the comm, captain,” General Taggart said. “I want an eyes-on assessment of what’s going on.”

“Attention Juliet Bravo Alfa, eight-four-four comm group, this is NESSTC Red-David-Four, do you copy?” Captain Connors waited five seconds before repeating her broadcast after no response.

“This is Lieutenant Henson of 844th Communications Group, go ahead Red-David-Four,” came a surprisingly cool voice from Joint Base Andrews.

“Lieutenant, we need current ISR on the D.C. area if you can provide it, over.”

“Yeah, Red-David-Four, there’s some kind of translucent . . . bubble . . . around the city. The 113th Wing has already lost two F-16’s that crashed into it, and we’re getting reports of a commercial airliner impact, too. Traffic is backed up on the highways. Nothing is getting in or coming out, over.”

“Do you have visual of an enemy spacecraft, over?”

“You mean the giant needle thing that just came down out of the sky? That’s a roger, Red-David-Four. Our pilots say the tip of it just pierced the bubble. They’ve fired everything they have at it, but not a scratch has been reported, over.”

“Please stay online with us, lieutenant, over,” Captain Connors said.

“Roger that.”

Towsley had stopped listening to Lieutenant Henson a few seconds ago because his attention had fixed on the alien’s live video feed. The image of the needle ship suspended above Washington D.C. had been replaced by a crowd of bemused spectators standing around at an interrupted baseball game at Nationals Park. Some in the foreground were running from the camera, or from whatever operated it, which appeared to be flying smoothly above and through the perplexed crowd. People began to scream in the background. Towsley’s heart beat harder, and he held back the urge to shout at the screen and order the dazed people to start running.

Watch closely . . . watch closely . . . watch closely. . . .

The scene kept changing as if there were several cameras recording the chaos: people around the concession stands, the players on the field, the people in the stands, in the parking lots.

“What the hell’s going on?” Taggart shouted.

He was answered on screen by the ghostly appearance of thick blue dust which swirled into view from above the ballpark, and almost at once, a great chorus of screams erupted across the stadium. In the foreground, the mysterious powder began to constrict and concentrate into fluid shapes swirling through the air, pulling crazed people into the air, ripping and shredding limbs, tearing heads off, gurgling screams rising and dying. The dust had become a living, breathing thing.

A few people in the COC cried out. Towsley’s first reaction was to laugh because this

wanton, over-the-top bloodlust could not possibly be real. Extraterrestrial CGI anyone?

The scene changed again. A street Towsley recognized in Georgetown. The same carnage. One man burst through his windshield before a blue tendril of dust punched through his chest and blew his gore across the hood. Dozens of people were literally disintegrating and exploding all over the street. A dog barked in the background, then went silent.

Towsley’s mental defenses were still active, shutting out the hopefully fake horror from his sanity, but the remnants of chef salad in his stomach were threatening to rise up his esophagus. The more he watched, the more his resolve began to wane. It’s not real, it’s not real . . . oh God, please let it not be real. . . .

The steps to Capitol Hill. Inside a family’s living room. The E Wing of the Pentagon. The National Mall. Everywhere the mysterious slaughter continued to shift from one scene to another, the cloud of thick blue dust pulsating like ghosts rippling through the air, searching out people running across parking lots, cowering in corners, and making futile last stands in locked cars. Towsley could not help but think of God’s pestilent, first-born-killing cloud in The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston’s Moses saying, “Close the door Joshua and let death pass.”

Through a couple of blurry drops of blood on the camera lens, a reflection in a shop window revealed one of the alien video cameras——a metallic, flying sphere the size of a soccer ball——before it flew off and zeroed in on a half-naked, bloodied woman still alive among the severed dead laying on the sidewalk, twitching and gagging, police sirens in the background.

Someone in the Air-Defense pit vomited.

“Turn that fucking thing off!” Towsley screamed. “Turn it off!”

Someone mercifully flipped a switch, and the top screen went dark.

Towsley had no spit to wet the inside of his dry mouth. His fingers were trembling. The recon data still coming in from Medusa Stare meant nothing to him. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida apparently had been blown to hell a few moments ago by a one hundred kiloton laser blast from orbit, but Towsley was too dazed to give a shit.

“I want confirmation from any of our assets in the D.C. area,” General Taggart murmured over the COC radio net. “This is the time to keep your heads level, people. Humans have been hacking and cleaving themselves on the battlefield for thousands of years, and what we saw was just another version of it. So suck it up and do your jobs. Captain Connors, I want anyone you have on your List of Posts who can give us immediate ISR on Washington.”

“Yes, sir,” Captain Connors replied curtly. “Lieutenant Henson, you still with us?”

“Roger, that Red-David-Four.”

“What’s the status on your area?”

“The One-Thirteenth says the force field around Washington D.C. is gone, and I can see that giant needle out my window. It’s going back up into the air.”

*

Juan Vasquez pulled out all of his dresser drawers and threw every article of clothing into his suitcase, not caring what old clothes he took, as long as they still fit. He stuffed the suitcase full, locked it, and flew down the stairs to throw it in the car.

“Dad?” Vanessa called from the back porch. “Mom wants you. She’s in the back yard.”

Juan set the suitcase on the couch and went into the kitchen. “What is it?”

“Juan!” his wife shouted from outside. “Get out here!”

He stepped outside into the warm California sunlight, and followed his wife’s gaze skyward. The sky was breathing with strange lights. Long blue streaks of incandescence rose from all horizons. Yellow and orange phosphorescent smears of light pulsated in the south and slowly evaporated. Then a blue star rose from the north while four yellow pinpoints approached it. When the blue star flared brighter, the smaller lights died out.

Juan went inside to get his binoculars and returned a minute later.

“It’s the end of the world!”

Juan looked to see his elderly neighbor, shotgun in hand, standing next to his pool in his bathrobe. His wife stood on the back porch, while their dog howled at the sky.

“It’s the end of the world,” he repeated. “H. G. ‘Fucking’ Wells!”

“Shut up, Bernard!” his wife cried.

The sky looked like a drug-induced meteor shower. Streaks were crisscrossing from horizon-to-horizon. Another blotch of light flared and died to the east. A pair of blue bulbs rose from the west, both spewing long sparkling threads of sapphire light at the ground hundreds of miles away. A bright flash lit the sky to the south where one of the beams had touched.

“What was that? his wife asked.

“The navy base in San Diego probably.” He pointed his binoculars skyward and swept the heavens for a ghost light.

He spotted one of the blue comets coming down from the north and focused his glasses on it. The object continued south, accelerating quickly. He could see something black surrounding the light. It seemed to be wedge-shaped, but he could pick out no detail.

“All right, let’s go,” he said finally. “Vanessa, you have your stuff packed?”

“Not yet. I got one more bag.”

“Hurry up.”

Vanessa disappeared into the house.

A newscaster’s voice on his neighbor’s radio came on the air, and Juan listened in. “This is Charles Reed, KFGH-AM radio, broadcasting on generator back-up. The alien spacecraft have attacked naval and Air Force bases worldwide, and all military forces are on alert. People are asked to stay in their homes.”

Juan let a sarcastic grin cross his face and looked out at the nearby Foothill Freeway to see most of Southern California had disregarded that civil ordinance. Thick traffic jammed every freeway out of town. L.A.’s mayor had ordered the city’s citizens to evacuate.

“The United States Navy and Air Force, according to a Pentagon spokesman, have already been attacking the alien spacecraft. At this moment, there are no reports of any results.”

*

Vanessa threw her suitcase on the bed and sat down. The RV was quiet. Cool and dark. She put her head in her hands. The alien voice had scared the shit out of her and everyone. Her little brother Sammy had come screaming down the stairs into her arms. He was the only boy within hugging distance, so he had to suffice. She had tried calling Todd after that, but he did not answer his cell. Apparently, Marcus had not been heard from in three days. Maybe he was too distraught to talk to her right now.

Vanessa felt the RV rebound, heard the floor in the kitchen creak. “Sammy, dad told you not to bring your TV, it’s too heavy.” Her little brother, who had a smart aleck retort to everything she said, did not reply. Odd. Vanessa looked up.

A black leathery abomination stood in the RV’s kitchen, creepy yellow eyes staring back at her through helmeted goggles, a metallic sphere hovering behind it. A scream built up quickly in her lungs, but she did not have time to release it. Her lungs turned to lead when she felt her body lifted upward and propelled forward by an unseen force toward the thing in the kitchen. A warm hand closed over her mouth, and the fingers nearly wrapped around her head. The other hand seized her left thigh.

We have you now, hatchling.

When its voice sounded in her brain, Vanessa finally screamed.

*

“CINCPAC HQ has indicated a substantial number of enemy bandits have just wiped out the Chinese naval base at Qingdao and half its surface fleet there,” the comm officer said.

Captain Stephen Page, commanding officer of the Ticonderoga-class cruiser U.S.S. Cape St. George, fished a menthol cigarette out of his front pocket and lit it with a Bic, still fuming from their failed anti-asteroid attack. “Well, it’s nice to see that E.T. is being broad based with his combat ops.”

“Sir, HQ says this same group of enemy bandits is heading for our position. Current distance, nine-four-zero miles. Altitude, forty miles. Speed, eleven-hundred knots. Bearing two-four-zero.”

Page turned to his radar officers at their stations. “Anything yet?”

“No, sir. Still scoping two-four-zero.”

The Cape St. George’s AN/SPS-49 air search radar had a range of 250 nautical miles and an altitude of 150,000 feet. Basic geometry figured at forty miles altitude, the alien ships should be spotted soon coming over the southwest horizon.

Page turned his ear and listened to the incoming transmissions from the Abraham Lincoln’s four E-2C Hawkeye early-warning radar planes. Three of the carrier’s four strike fighter squadrons of F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets were up there too, thirty-six in all on Combat Air Patrol.

“Hawkeye contacts, count seven-two!” the chief radar operator said, escalating the tension in the CIC. “Bearing two-three-six. Range seven-four-four. Heading zero-four-zero.”

“India-Tango Blue!” Page said to the radioman, signaling for Carrier Strike Group Nine to launch SAMs.

*

Twelve seconds after launch, the second boost phases kicked in and the SAMs went to MACH three. Eight seconds later, the third and final boost phases thrust the ScramHawks into a hydrogen-fueled MACH seven attack. The Aegis guidance computers had them on a course of two-two-nine. The ScramHawks’s onboard guidance would take over when the telescopic seeker cameras spotted the alien bandits.

For the second time that day, however, something invisible began knocking the missiles out of the sky.

“What the hell is happening?” Page shouted at the AN/SPS-49 radar screen in frustration. The ScramHawks were disappearing off the scopes——again.

A frantic voice came in from one of the strike fighter squadrons. “Coach Base, this is Easy Rider! I have visual on a single bogey! It’s black . . ! It looks like . . . like a dragon! Heads up, the bandit’s engaging——!” Page heard the turbofan engines of Easy Rider’s F/A-18 Super Hornet roar to full power over the radio before the signal crackled and died.

“Coach Base, this is Hawkeye Three,” came the voice from the southern E-2C. “All three strike squadrons are off my screens! They’re all gone! Count one contact approaching your position! Repeat, one contact! Range——” The transmission abruptly ended just as Easy Rider’s had.

“It’s just one goddamn bandit?” Page felt anger and terror well up inside him at the same time. Anger, because this single mystery bandit had used the large formation of alien fighters as bait to provoke the flotilla into revealing its position. Terror, because he knew he was about to die.

Shit happens. Page turned around and shouted, “Weapons free!”

The Cape St. George’s two Phalanx CIWS Gatling guns instantly went into Fire mode and swept the southern sky with its radome search antenna but could not find a single target.

Page felt the Cape St. George roar to thirty-two knots and heel into a drastic, starboard-side turn into the enemy’s flight path to reduce the ship’s profile. ScramHawks leapt out of the cruiser’s vertical launch cells and RIM-174’s from the four air-defense destroyers in a vain attempt to throw up a defensive wall of metal, engulfing the vessels in clouds of rolling smoke.

Captain Page caught something black but completely invisible to the ship’s many sensors scream across the cruiser’s bow before disappearing from sight. A dragon? He turned to shout another order when a bright orb appeared and struck the Cape St. George amidships at the water line.

A kilometer away, the rear admiral of Carrier Strike Group Nine aboard the Abraham Lincoln’s flag bridge inhaled sharply when he watched the cruiser literally vault out of the water onto its starboard side and flash into dime-size shrapnel, all 9,800 displaced tons of it, with the loudest explosion that would deafen his ears forever. The shockwave, carrying chunks of the Cape St. George with it, swept across the carrier’s flight deck, blowing aircraft and personnel into bits, before it shattered the bridge windows and laced everyone with molten shards of glass and metal. The immense concussion threw the deaf admiral against the far bulkhead, and his last vision before the end was a brilliant blue-white light and a petty officer sailing through the air.

A second lieutenant brought a freshly printed EAM up to Taggart from the comm pit. Towsley closely studied the general’s expression as he read the message, but Taggart exhibited nothing which betrayed a single emotion. Only when he dropped the communique on his chair, loosened his tie and calmly sauntered toward the elevator did a bemused look appear on his face.

After the doors slid shut, Towsley walked back to The Throne and picked up the teletype:


Emergency Action Message - Emergency Action Message

National Command Authority Priority One

FROM: Air Force One Airborne Operations Center

TO: All United States Military Forces Land Sea Air

CEASE HOSTILITIES EXTRATERRESTRIAL FORCES IMMEDIATELY - REPEAT - CEASE HOSTILITIES EXTRATERRESTRIAL FORCES IMMEDIATELY

Emergency Action Message - Emergency Action Message

National Command Authority Priority One

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