Chapter 24: A Confluence of Events
(South China Sea, Earth, Near Future)
The trimaran USS Independence littoral combat frigate, the very latest of her design, cruised sea-side abreast the USS CVN Ronald Reagan just astern the Arleigh Burke Destroyer, the USS Michael Murphy. The Reagan’s battlegroup contained some eight ships in all, including the two submarines USS North Dakota and the prototype USS Seawolf. Congress loved the Virginia Class submarines, but the Navy loved the Seawolf; so did the new President, who immediately ordered it back into service. The Independence was forced to cruise all ahead two-thirds while the rest of the Carrier Battle Group cruised all ahead standard just so she didn’t leave the group behind. The Chinese man-made island housed a military installation about a thousand yards off the port bow. Captain Harry Chastain didn’t know what to make of the politics of it, but he knew this was going to piss off the Chinese. Sure, technically they were in International Waters since they were more than the designated twenty-five miles from China’s mainland to qualify as such, but he supposed if the Chinese didn’t want this level of push-back, then maybe they shouldn’t have built their man-made base more than thirty miles off-shore. Such thinking was above his paygrade. He had plenty to worry about as he called out commands from the Captain’s chair on the bridge housing the latest and greatest of American ingenuity, “TAO, keep that RAM warm,” the Captain’s reference to the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) not going unnoticed as he garnered concerned looks from around the bridge.
“Aye, sir.” Tactical Action Officer (TAO) Lieutenant Agatha MacDonald confirmed, keeping close observation on her Aegis-com-synchronized threat matrix, her long red hair, a reflection of her Scottish and Irish heritage, stuffed under her cap. She felt the tension oozing across the bridge too, but she had a job to do.
“XO, you’re with me,” Captain Chastain ordered to his Executive Officer (XO) Dallas Kent, motioning for Kent to leave the bridge with him. “OOD, you have the Conn.” The Captain’s matter-of-fact tonality was a direct reflection of their intensely hostile surroundings.
“Aye, sir, OOD has the Conn.” Officer of the Deck (OOD) Larry Zummwalt, a surname synonymous with generations of Navy heritage, proudly puffed out his chest, looking out over the bow of the ship through the slim-profiled stealthy Conning Tower.
Quickly opening the door to his Captain’s quarters, seeing the 6’4” intruder with shoulder-length black hair and black eyes, wearing jeans and a Led Zeppelin T-Shirt, Captain Chastain didn’t have time to call for help before unseen hands silently dragged him and the XO into the Captain’s quarters. The door slammed behind them. Both felt themselves being gagged by something they couldn’t see, feel or touch; yet it was there, in their throats, silencing them immediately. Circling the two broad-shouldered Navy line officers, the tall, dark, and handsome man spoke to them with his thoughts—his lips never moving.
I’m not here to hurt you, the thoughts forced into the Captain’s and the XO’s mind. If I wanted you dead, I would have killed you already.
Casting Suggestion, Damon wormed his way into the deepest recesses of their minds, probing for exactly the right place to plant his suggestion. His right hand, over their forehead in succession, starting with the Captain, Damon leered as he probed, finding just the right place, just the right moment for the implant. The seed of hate and doubt would propagate like a tidal wave internally, providing just the right level of justification for his needs. Casting Forget, they both collapsed to the floor. He needed to wake them up, but remotely.
From the far side of the Portal, in his living room in Austin, Damon used Telekinesis to slap the two line officers awake, closing the Portal with a whoosh as they were coming to. The rest should take care of itself.
Captain Chastain didn’t remember how he had gotten to his quarters, nor why his XO was with him. The last clear memory he had was being on the bridge watching for the damn Chinese to make their move. Can’t trust any of them, he thought to himself, memories of his father, killed by Chinese Triad mafia, flooding his thoughts. “Come on,” Captain Chastain ordered, hastening his pace back to the Conn, XO in tow.
“TAO, what targets are you painting?” The Captain asked, briskly walking into the Conn.
“Painting, sir?” TAO MacDonald didn’t understand. She hadn’t been asked to paint any ‘targets.’ She had a pair of Chinese J-31’s barely showing on the scope, somewhat impressed by the very limited size of their stealth signature, but she sure as Hell wasn’t about to start ‘painting’ them without a good goddamn reason. “I have two J-31’s broadcasting on international frequencies, warning us about approaching too close to their base. Would you like us to respond?” Typically, the Admiral of the Battle Group, aboard the Carrier or his flagship, replied on behalf of the Carrier Battle Group. She knew that. So did the Captain.
“Yes, I would,” Captain Chastain replied, climbing into the Captain’s Chair. “Paint them with the RAM.”
“You heard me, TAO.”
“Aye, sir,” TAO MacDonald looked between the scowl of the XO and the outright glower of the Captain, wondering, What the Hell is going on? “Painting now, sir.” With precision and care, she placed the target finder on the lead J-31 while the Admiral responded over the comm, “Chinese Fighters. Chinese Fighters. This is Admiral Deed, aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. Our Battle Group is cruising through International Waters with no intention of conflict. Please confirm your intent.”
* * * *
The conflicting messages of being painted by the U.S. frigate combined with the benign message of Admiral Deed caused Captain Xiang Min indescribable concern. This could go sideways at a moment’s notice, then there would be war. Motioning to his wingman to check his Attack Control Systems, he wanted to get confirmation they were being painted. He wanted someone else to make this decision.
* * * *
“Do you have him yet?” Captain Chastain hurried his TAO, practically standing over her even while seated some sixteen feet away in his Captain’s chair.
“Sir, I have him painted as ordered.”
“Weapons Free, TAO.”
“WHAT?” Realizing how inappropriate and derelict her tone was, Agatha MacDonald quickly regrouped internally, recalling her training, “Sir, rules of engagement state—”
“You heard me, TAO. You are Weapons Free. Shoot that bastard out of the sky! RIGHT NOW!”
Before she could protest, the XO pulled her from her chair, squeezing the trigger on the black plastic joystick, releasing the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile for a clean kill only two seconds later.
A moment later the lookout could see aircraft parts dropping from the sky through his tactical binoculars as the remaining Chinese J-31 could be heard calling home reporting the shootdown, asking for instructions. Suddenly his message was cut off mid-sentence, as the USS Independence registered another clean and confirmed shootdown.
* * * *
(G8 Summit, London, Earth, Near Future)
The beautiful but sterile environment of the hotel’s ballroom may have made for a place of neutrality, but that didn’t necessarily facilitate neutral conversation among the G-8 participants. People were still people. Some you gelled with, and others you didn’t. The title President or Prime Minister, or even King, didn’t matter when it came to getting along with someone. Either you knew how to make friends and influence people, or you didn’t. It wasn’t really a skill you learned—at least not from Michael’s perspective. Michael’s dad had always taught him that there would be those who intended him harm no matter what he did or said, and with those people you just needed to give them enough rope to let them hang themselves. Don’t bother trying to please everyone. Just be yourself, Michael’s father told him frequently. You’ll cock everything up trying to be something and someone you’re not.
He wasn’t even really supposed to be here. This was the Prime Minister’s dog and pony show—not his. Everyone had been asking about the new King, but more wanted to see his sword than meet him. He couldn’t blame them. How could he ever compare to the Sword of King’s fame? It was fine really. He wore it practically everywhere he went now. It was like an accepted anachronism worldwide. He’d been on mercy missions to Africa with it, and attended far too many memorials of terrorist events throughout Europe and the United States where they all wanted to see the famed Sword of Kings. He was used to it now. Even now it hung on his left hip like an old familiar friend—its gold and sterling silver scabbard embossed with five runes running down its length. He had no idea what they meant—the scabbard had been a gift from his wife, Elise. She had commissioned Gordon Russell to custom make it for her wedding present to him but hadn’t said what the Hell those runes meant. The scabbard was far heavier than the sword itself, but he’d gotten used to it over time, and it went well with Michael’s proper earth-tone Bespoke suit.
Michael was grateful for the badly needed break. Things had been droning on for half the day already, and he was getting a migraine from the lack of doing anything really tactically useful. The focus of this G8 was Terrorism in our world today, and modifying the role of NATO to deal with it. Yet, there had been so much talk, so little action, and non-existent details. He wondered how anyone got things done with such nebulous speak. Such were the circles he ran in these days—not like walking around with a .40 cal Sig Sauer® on you with a license to kill. That was how you got things done, he cynically believed.
Walking the perimeter of the royal-mahogany stained walnut round table, which in and of itself he found humorous given the relic at his left side, Michael wanted to go shake the hand of the new American President.
“Mr. President,” Michael said addressing the forty-fifth American President, acknowledging the Secret Service within arm’s reach as their eyes went directly to the Sword of Kings at his side.
“Your Majesty,” The President half-bowed, uncertain of the formality of royalty decorum.
“Oh please,” Michael protested, “…none of that business here. We’re all equals here.” The last causing a broad smile across the President’s face. He figured he could relate better to this particular President, given the newness of their ascension to power and having that in common.
“I’ve heard such great things about you and that fancy sword. I’m surprised they let you in here with that thing.” The President was ribbing of course, but Michael always worried about perception. It could be a dangerous thing, especially when unchecked by real and genuine familiarity with the person. That was his real reason for coming over.
“Don’t believe everything you hear, Mr. President,” Michael smiled broadly, looking to address the Secret Service Agent directly behind the President, motioning to his scabbard on his left side. “Is it okay if I show it to him?”
The job of the Secret Service was to stay out of the picture and be well into the background, but obviously the man appreciated the gesture of asking as he provided Michael a smile and an affirmative nod, though never took his eyes off Michael or his hands as they went to retrieve the sword that was not a sword.
“It’s magnificent,” The President breathed aloud in awe, as Michael unsheathed the Sword of Kings, showing him the Latin inscriptions down one side of the fuller and five runes down the other. “I heard the story about how you found it under water. That’s just astonishing. It really makes you wonder.” The President’s eyes glimmered in the soft glow of the immortal sword that ceased as soon as Michael handed it over to the President for closer examination.
It still felt magnificent and warm in the President’s hands, like nothing he’d ever felt. It coursed with energy yet felt lighter than his favorite driver. It felt perfect.
“Well you have to come for a State Visit at the White House,” The President insisted, still holding the Sword of Kings lengthwise across both hands—not like one would hold a sword, more like one would hold something precious he was presenting as a gift.
“Of course,” Michael replied. “Elise and I would be honored. I have to check with her on travel, due to her pregnancy. She might be under doctor’s orders that I’m not aware of.” Michael beamed, being the ever-so-proud father-to-be, patting the President on the shoulder as he held the Sword of Kings, unable to take his eyes off it.
Watching the middle-aged brunette female he knew to be the President’s Chief of Staff weaving her way through the crowd to get to the President, Michael wondered how sideways this meeting with the President was about to go. The Chief of Staff never interrupted a State meeting like this unless it was bad—really bad.
Whispering into his left ear, she barely came up to the President’s shoulders, but apparently he heard her loud and clear; as the President’s eyes tried not to give away the seriousness of the moment and failed.
“ALLAHU AKBAR!!!” the shout coming from a man’s voice on the far side of the room, immediately followed by gunfire.
Michael didn’t even think, shoving the American President to the floor just as the Secret Service jumped into place shielding them both simultaneously. “I’ll need that back, Mr. President,” Michael jibed with a half-smile, trying to keep everyone calm as he grabbed the Sword of Kings from the American President’s hands.
A soft glow erupted into a star in the middle of the ballroom as Michael jumped a few feet in front of the Secret Service, throwing his sword’s intense white and piercing hemispherical aura of light right into the eyes of the terrorist, leaving the backside of its aura pale and modest for the Secret Service to more easily see and return fire. How had they gotten guns this close to such a secure event, Michael questioned internally as he continued directing his sword’s light into the gunmen’s eyes, blinding him while the Secret Service returned fire with an almighty vengeance.
Just as fast as it had begun, the gunfire coming at them stopped as one-by-one the Secret Service ceased their return fire. Michael turned to look behind him, seeing the American President long since gone. Probably executing their exfiltration plan for POTUS, Michael estimated, as the rest of the Executive Protection Unit charged the assailant guns drawn.
Feeling a set of hands on his shoulders that he didn’t recognize, didn’t make them any less capable of dragging him out of the ballroom, converted into a conference hall. Holy shit! This guy is strong, he thought, finding himself outside, quickly being escorted to a Cadillac limousine resembling “The Beast” as it was known. Can’t be. The President would have long since been removed from the scene. The massive bullet and blast-proof door to “The Beast” was opened by Secret Service as he felt his head being pushed down as he was practically thrown into the limousine. Suddenly Michael’s Android phone buzzed and rang out in emergency tones from his interior jacket pocket.
“No way was I going to let them leave you behind,” The new American President said in a tone of lethal seriousness, motioning to his Chief of Staff as Michael retrieved his Android phone to read the message on the locked screen. ‘Excalibur is UP.’ Michael frowned at the government encoded message, knowing its meaning as soon as he read it.
“Your Majesty,” she said in a somber yet focused tone, “Your Prime Minister is reported to be fatally shot in the attack. There were multiple gunmen. You and the Secret Service got one of them. There was another in the break hall who assassinated your Prime Minister. I’m sorry, Your Majesty. But, the United States of America thanks you for your bravery today.” Her report confirming the government emergency broadcast he’d just received.
“I thank you,” The President said flatly. “Go ahead,” The President ordered his Chief of Staff, “Tell him.”
“Your Majesty, we have a situation in the South China Sea. An incident.” Her mouth worked, trying not to get choked up, but she was terrified. That was perfectly clear.
Sideways, Michael mused internally. Properly sideways.
“We’ll help however we can, Mr. President. You know that,” Michael reassured POTUS, wondering about the exact nature of the commitment he’d just made. But this was an important moment where tough decisions had to be made and relationships would be tested, and their relationship with the United States was not up for negotiations. It had to remain intact.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish