SEA OF CRETE
2:53 A.M. Local Time; 7:53 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
With relentless determination, the ship taunted the storm sweeping across the Sea of Crete. Two large nuclear reactors struggled to push the twenty three thousand tons of metal through the angry waters. With every towering wave, the bow of the Russian rocket cruiser Kirov scooped up a wall of water, flung it into the air, and allowed it to crash down on the empty deck. Every loose object had long ago vanished into the sea. The crew was at general quarters stations.
A vertical launch system hatch clanged open, unheard beneath the roar of the wind and sea. A SA-6b surface to-air missile leapt into the rain in an explosion of fire and smoke. A second missile followed quickly. The two missiles accelerated into the sky and slowly angled toward the northwest.
Inside his quarters, a weary Admiral hung up the phone from the Combat Information Center, closed his eyes and wished he was on another ship, in another ocean.
THE WHITE HOUSE
9:26 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Announcement by the White House Press Secretary
“It is my unfortunate duty to inform everyone we have reliable information that Air Force One has crashed into the Mediterranean Sea near the Greek island of Crete. President Kevin Douglas was on board, as was the Director of National Intelligence, many media personnel and at least fifty Secret Service agents and White House support staff. The site is being examined by the two fighter escorts of Air Force One. U.S. Naval vessels are on their way.
"Initial reports from the fighter pilots indicate a foreign naval vessel fired at least two missiles. There is no evidence of survivors.
"Vice-president Theodore Anderson is now on his way to the White House where he will be sworn in as President. He will address the nation as soon as possible."
THREE WEEKS LATER
The moonless sky blanketed the harbor of Haifa. The darkness was complete. The gentle slapping of the waves against the hull of the Israeli missile boat Gilat lulled the lone security watch. The sailor's concentration was wavering. For the last hour and twenty two minutes it had been his birthday. He was feeling sorry for himself as he patrolled the deck.
Why was he the only one of a crew of nine not asleep in his bunk?
He thought he heard a soft thump against the hull. Sure he was imagining things, he walked to the port side to investigate.
Still depressed, he felt a searing pain in his right side, followed by something falling on his foot. His mind, numb and detached, he looked down and observed an arm lying on the deck. The machete swung again.
The initial encounter lasted just two swings of a blade, but three sailors managed to awaken in time to force the fifteen terrorists into a brief skirmish. The odds were against the Israelis. Half naked, half awake men stumbling around in the dark searching for their weapons are always at a disadvantage against an organized enemy. The only officer on board made it as far as the weapon's locker before he was skewered. Ultimately, the entire crew was piled on the deck, their blood mingling and forming a large pool encircling the corpses. One sailor was still breathing, his breaths coming in short, ragged gasps.
After their conquest, the terrorists were quietly efficient. Four men went to cast off the mooring lines. Three went down to the engine room. Four carried the wet suits and tanks to the main cabin below deck and stored them. The leader of the raid, called The Scorpion, strode to the bow to inspect the six American made Prometheus cruise missiles. His inspection was as limited as his knowledge of their capabilities. It was enough to know the missiles were on the ship. He would learn how to use them later. Still, he noticed one of the missiles was a little different. Maybe the living Israeli pig would talk.
Walking up to the small bridge, he joined two of his companions. The remainder of the assault force gathered on deck to watch over the victims, preparing to dump them overboard as soon as the Gilat was far enough out at sea.
The departure from Haifa was uneventful. The sixty-ton craft rushed through the water at forty knots, her recently refurbished engines whining at full power. During the Gilat's refitting three weeks ago nothing had been spared that might compromise her ability to protect the cruise missiles or deliver them to their desired targets in the event of war. A new weapons' computer had been linked to the satellite guidance system, so the dumbest officer in the Israeli Navy could quickly activate a missile and correctly launch it.
An hour later, more than forty miles out from the harbor, the terrorists threw the bodies of the dead Israeli sailors into the sea, leaving the unconscious man on the deck, his breathing now somewhat calmer. Thirty minutes later, his quivering eyelids opened to reveal confused brown eyes, darting in all directions until finally focusing on the sharp face of the terrorist leader.
"The missiles are ready to launch?" The Scorpion hissed.
The Israeli's only response was to narrow his eyes, an action that resulted in a swift kick to his ribs. He writhed on the deck, moaning; a response resulting in a second, harder kick. Tears of pain running down his cheeks, he stared up at his questioner. "I don't…know," he muttered, trying to spare himself a third kick. It didn't work. He felt a salty taste in his mouth, and glanced down at the wooden deck to see bloody phlegm accumulating in a small puddle. It took him a few seconds to realize it was his drool and that no matter what answer he gave he was going to die. He wasn't by nature a hero, but deep within him a stubborn resolve began to swell.
"Go rot in…hell."
The Scorpion stared at him, pulled a gun and shot him through both kneecaps. Wasted bullets. The Israeli sailor was already dead, his head rolling in rhythm with the waves, his eyes open to the heavens.
Consumed with anger, The Scorpion, seeking satisfaction, kicked the sailor in the ribs, the side, the hips and the head until his ankles and toes ached from the contact. There was no satisfaction to be found. When his men finally tossed the body of the sailor overboard, The Scorpion glimpsed a slight smile on his enemy's lips.
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