“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”, stated former President Kennedy on September 12, 1962. These words inspired a nation in the initial race to the Moon. Now over half a century later these words are moving the world to action once more.
A terrorist attack on the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC ignites a new and more deadly race to the Moon than ever before. Too bad the United States has allowed its manned space program to fall apart. The space shuttles are museum pieces and the International Space Station now belongs to the United Nations.
When intelligence reports reveal China’s plan to establish a permanent base on the Moon, former astronaut, U.S. President Olivia Kane is faced with a challenge she must confront: Will nuclear weapons soon be aimed at the United States from above, or will the Moon be the site of the next great war? Find out in this suspense-filled thriller.
The Iranian Yuan class submarine Scimitar headed south along the western coast of the Strait of Hormuz at a speed of seven knots, using the background noise of the nearby shoreline to mask her acoustic signature. Scimitar was capable of near silent operation at lower speeds, but the slightly higher risk of detection by the American anti-submarine forces was offset by the tactical advantage gained by taking a position ahead of the carrier group, and lying in wait for its prey.
“Comrade Zeng, are you satisfied with our progress?” said Jamshed Adad, the Iranian captain of the Scimitar.
“You have done well,” said Zeng Wang, a full Colonel in the naval branch of the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, and a graduate of the Naval Academy at Dalian.
Zeng had much more at stake in the success of the mission than simply satisfying the Iranian High Command. His advancement to the Politburo, indeed his entire future, depended on it. Since the unfortunate arrest of his brother on charges of sedition six months earlier, Zeng’s eventual ascendency to Politburo was no longer assumed: it was questioned. The arrest had sparked vicious rumors about Zeng and his family, some so toxic that their position as one of China’s elite was under attack. Even his future in the military had been affected. Instead of a new Yuan class boat, he was given command of the Swallowtail, an antiquated Ming class submarine based in Dalian. It was barely seaworthy, and other than occasional use as a target during fleet anti-submarine exercises, the rust encrusted relic remained in port.
Thank God his Uncle, Dai Huaren, the Mayor of Beijing and one of the leading candidates to assume the Presidency, had quietly intervened with the PLA High Command on his behalf. Zeng first learned of his good fortune when Dai summoned him to Beijing to discuss certain matters that he could only discuss in person. On the train to Beijing, Zeng’s imagination had gone wild, and by the time he arrived at the Mayor’s office he was a nervous wreck. So when his Uncle offered him a brandy to calm his nerves, Zeng gratefully accepted, knowing full well it would be his last. After all, his naval career was already in ruins. What else could go wrong? Criminal charges for conspiracy?
“I’ve arranged for you to be placed in charge of the delivery of four Yuan class submarines purchased in strict secrecy by the Iranian Navy,” Dai said. “The first boat is almost ready for sea. Your assignment is to sail it to Iran undetected by the Americans, then complete the sea trials.”
Thunderstruck, Zeng stammered, “You mean I’m not being arrested?”
“Heavens no. What ever gave you that idea?”
“Then I’m really being given command of a Yuan class?”
“Until the boat is accepted by the Iranians, yes.”
“I don’t know what to say Uncle.” It began to sink in. Through the kindness of his Uncle, his career, indeed his life, had suddenly been transformed, and put back on a track to success.
Dai smiled and said, “Thank you will suffice.”
His lips moved but he was unable to speak, overcome by his sudden good fortune. He’d been given a second chance, the gift of a lifetime. Finally he managed to choke out, “Thank you, Uncle.”
Dai nodded and then got down to business. “The Iranian President is directly involved with the purchase. How well you handle him will determine whether the Iranians exercise their options to take the other three boats. We are proceeding with construction, at our own expense, on the assumption they will.”
“I will not disappoint you, Uncle.”
“A word of warning. The Iranian President can be very difficult. He will test your diplomatic skills beyond anything you’ve ever experienced.”
“I will be careful.”
“Our future as a supplier of world class submarines is at stake. The Iranians are the first customer for the Yuan class. For us to recoup our investment there must be several more. That is why the Politburo has you under a microscope.”
“I see that as an opportunity, not a problem.”
“You are a wise young man,” Dai said.
Within days of his meeting with Dai, Zeng was given command of the Yaun class submarine known only as Hull 307. The Wuchang Shipyard records contained no reference to the identity of the purchaser. In keeping with the desire for secrecy, the boat bore no side numbers. After arrival in Iran, the shroud of secrecy would be lifted and she would be formally christened “Scimitar.”
Even now, months later, he still recalled every detail of the new boat, along with the unbridled sense of pride that it was all his, at least for the next six weeks. Standing at the foot of the gangway, he had marveled at her sleek black hull, topped by the conning tower and periscope masts. They glistened in the halogen lights of the underground submarine pen; part of the vast network of caverns that made up the super secret Sanya submarine base on Hainan Island. He’d never forget the thrill when he stepped aboard for the first time, saluted the duty officer, and went below to the closet sized stateroom reserved for the captain.
Reflecting back on the early days of his command, he’d stood by at first while technicians swarmed over the boat like ants, completing last minute fixes and checks. The Chinese advisors trained the Iranian crew in the ways of modern submarines. When it was time to put to sea, however, he’d felt the full exhilaration of command. He remembered taking a deep breath to calm the jitters that always seemed to hit on the first day of a long mission. Conditions were perfect, a cloudless day ideal for observation by the American recon satellite that always kept watch on the Chinese navy. It was due to pass over in the next hour. From his position high on the conning tower, he gave the order to get underway. As the boat glided toward the opening to the sea, his heart soared as a military band played China’s national anthem and cheers erupted from workers lining the outbound channel.
Once at sea, Zeng kept the Scimitar on the surface on a southerly course until he was sure the American recon satellite was in position overhead with a clear view. Only when he was sure their course and position had been duly noted by the Americans, did he order, “Dive, dive!” The Scimitar submerged and disappeared from view. Then he ordered the course change that would take the boat to its ultimate destination. Over the next six weeks, Zeng grew accustomed to the role of captain, and under his command the Scimitar wound its way toward the Strait of Hormuz. To minimize the chances of detection, Zeng avoided busy shipping lanes, and surfaced only at night when it was necessary to charge the batteries.
During the voyage, he’d often thought about the consternation the Scimitar’s disappearance must be causing the US Naval intelligence community. By the time he resurfaced, and they spotted the sub again, it would be too late. He’d be entering the Iranian naval base at Bandar-e Abbas, and the balance of power in the region would already be irrevocably altered. The Yuan class was almost impossible to detect, thanks to the acoustic signature technology his country’s scientists had stolen from the Americans. With its oval-shaped hull covered with rubber anti-sonar tiles, the Yuan class possessed the speed and maneuverability of modern Russian and American nuclear submarines, without the noise of a reactor and turbines. What set the Yuan class apart from all previous diesel-electric submarines, however, was its air-independent propulsion, a Chinese development that allowed the submarine to remain submerged for up to two weeks at a time, without having to surface to charge batteries. For the first time, engineers paired the ultra quiet of a diesel-electric submarine with the endurance of a nuclear submarine.
Zeng had breathed an inward sigh of relief when he docked the Scimitar at Bandar-e Abbas; the most difficult part of his mission was complete. At the same time, the approaching end of his command saddened him. Brief though it was, he’d relished every second. It felt good to leave his boat in good hands. The Iranian crew had performed beyond his expectations. All that remained was the sea trials.
Zeng’s jubilation had been short lived, however, when he found out what the Iranian President had in mind for him. The moment he came ashore, Iranian secret police had whisked him to the Presidential palace. He was ushered into an office so lavish, that he wondered if he’d stepped into Versailles. The Iranian President greeted him with a warm smile, and a cup of tea. “Colonel Zeng, thank you for coming.”
“It was my pleasure.”
“Your submarine is very quiet, yes?”
“It is the quietest on Earth.”
“Even quieter than the American submarines?”
“Absolutely. Theirs are nuclear powered. The turbine noise will always be louder than electric motors.”
“Then perhaps you can demonstrate the quietness to us.”
Beginning to feel wary of a set up, Zeng said, “And just how might we do that?”
Smiling the President said, “By taking a few pictures.”
“Not a problem, Excellency. The periscope camera optics are unparalleled.”
“Wonderful.” The President gleamed, visibly pleased.
After a new submarine was checked and tested, it was customary to take the boat for a simulated war patrol, allowing the crew to demonstrate their readiness to assume total operational responsibility. Zeng had assumed Adad would take over command during this phase of the sea trials, and he would act as an advisor. Instead, the Iranian President had asked him to command the Scimitar on the final sea trial. He was to take close range photos of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), a Nimitz class super carrier conducting flight operations in the Gulf of Oman, probably the most heavily defended piece of military hardware on the planet. That meant eluding the US Navy’s formidable anti-submarine capabilities and getting close enough to spit on the carrier. Even with the Yuan class’s advantages, Zeng put the odds of avoiding detection at only 50-50. Ironically, had the mission been to actually sink the Vinson, the risk of detection by the Americans would have been far less. Zeng could have used standoff weapons to attack the carrier from a great distance.
Zeng had not reached his current position by questioning orders, or showing any sign of fear, and an onlooker would have had difficulty spotting the nervous twitch on his jaw, but inwardly Zeng cursed his superiors for not foreseeing the Iranian’s stupidity. Most of all, he was mad at himself for not heeding Dai’s caution and letting the Iranian President draw him into foolish boasting. Now he had to risk his life and the lives of his crew to make good on his boast. The photos would prove beyond doubt the Yuan class was undetectable.
Zeng understood the Iranian President’s thinking. He hoped the threat of Yuan class submarines would clear the Strait of Hormuz of US carriers the way they had cleared the Taiwan Strait. Zeng approved of the plan; he just didn’t want to be the sap heading up the mission.
Now, on the verge of the actual encounter with the American behemoth, Zeng found himself questioning the mission, knowing he had no one to blame but himself. He pushed aside that thought, and reminded himself that the boat and the crew had performed flawlessly since he took command. The biggest surprise of the mission thus far had been the Americans. They were careless. In the course of tracking the Vinson for fifteen hours, he had identified a recurring pattern in the frequent course changes made by the carrier. If it continued to follow the same pattern, the Scimitar would be right in its path. Glancing at the battle space display, a translucent cube containing a three-dimensional display of the naval and air assets within 150 kilometers, the icons marking the Vinson and the Scimitar were on a collision course. Zeng smiled, satisfied with their progress. “We can maintain this speed for another hour. Then, we must reduce speed to minimize any noise for the final approach to the target.”
“Are you sure we will not be detected by the anti-submarine screen?” Adad said quietly. He’d heard horror stories from other submariners of the American’s deadly anti-submarine forces.
“I’m sure,” Zeng said, stifling the tremor in his jaw.
Two hours later, the Scimitar, now operating at slow speed, detected the oncoming carrier battle group, right where Zeng predicted it would be.
“The Americans are headed right for us,” Adad said eagerly.
Zeng bit back an expression of satisfaction. The mission was far from over. He tracked the approach of the Vinson with passive sonar, using the periscope only when absolutely necessary to take more accurate bearings. He knew that, above all, he had to avoid detection. Each time the periscope was exposed, a crewman with a stopwatch marked the time. After three seconds, Zeng lowered the periscope no matter what. He knew three seconds was the minimum time required for the American surface radar to detect the periscope and make a positive contact. The Americans would attribute a sighting less than three seconds in duration to background clutter or wave reflection.
It was time for the final periscope sighting before the Vinson came into camera range. Zeng raised the scope, took the final bearing, and lowered the scope in two seconds flat. The sighting reassured him. The carrier had not changed course. The Vinson sliced through the sea at over 30 knots, launching and retrieving aircraft, oblivious to the predator lurking in the shallows off its port bow.
“How much longer must we wait before we take the photos?” Adad said.
The Vinson was only 5000 meters away and as it crossed the bow of the Scimitar it presented a perfect profile picture for the morning intelligence reports. Zeng’s pulse quickened in anticipation of the priceless opportunity to humiliate the arrogant Americans. The morning news headlines popped into his head, “US Carrier Sitting Duck” or “Iranian Super Sub Humiliates US.”
The time had arrived, and Zeng reached for the camera controls. As he was about to give the order to raise the periscope, however, he glanced at Adad. The Iranian stood by expectantly. The look on his face said, “May I?”
Zeng hesitated. His Iranian protégée had earned the honor, but lacked experience handling the periscope under combat conditions. During the sea trials, he’d shown a tendency for leaving the scope up too long. It hadn’t mattered during the simulated attacks against the stationary barge that served as the target. Now a mistake like that could cost them their lives. On the other hand, Zeng stood to gain favor with the Iranian President once he learned the images were taken by one of his own. Adad would be a hero, and Zeng would head home with the order for the remaining three Yuan class. What more could he ask?
Zeng put aside his concerns and stepped away from the periscope, making room for Adad. “The boat is yours, Captain.”
His hands trembling with excitement, Adad raised the periscope enough to expose the camera optics and gave the order, “Activate cameras.”
“Five images acquired.”
“Periscope exposure 2 seconds.”
“Periscope exposure 5 seconds.”
“You’re taking too long”
“Just a few more shots.”
Zeng fought to keep his cool. Adad was doing it again. He bit his lip, telling himself the impulsive Iranian would lower the scope any second.
Too late. An alarm screeched, indicating the periscope countermeasure sensors had detected radar emissions.
“Down scope,” Adad yelled.
Zeng instantly regretted his silence. He had allowed Adad to exceed the three-second limit. A cold sweat broke out on Zeng’s brow and his neck muscles stiffened like high-pitched piano wires. He prayed Adad had lowered the periscope before the Americans obtained a positive radar contact. There was no way to tell for certain. They had to wait it out. Several minutes passed without incident. With each passing minute his fear subsided and he began to relax.
It was time to slip away from the Americans, and head home. “Come left to new course 275.”
Zeng imagined how pleased the Iranian President was going to be. The photos would delight him. Aside from proving what the Yuan class could do, the photos were prime propaganda material. Al Jazeera would have a field day touting the new Iranian submarine threat. He allowed himself a satisfied smile. The Iranian submarine order was all but assured. He could not wait to see the expression on his Uncle’s face when he handed it to him. The Politburo was within his reach. Life was good.
Adad noticed the change in his mentor’s expression. “You seem happy: at peace.”
“Yes. It’s been a long time since I felt this way.” Unfortunately, Zeng’s reverie had come to an end.
The sonar operator barked, “Rotor wash detected.”
“Sonobuoys hitting the water above us.”
“No, no, not now,” Adad cried.
“Sonobuoys on search mode.”
“We’ve been detected.”
“Increase speed to five knots. Change course to 180.”
“Weapon in the water, range 1200 meters,” the sonar operator called out. “Active homing, probably a Mark 54.”
Zeng was all too familiar with the Mark 54. It was the American’s anti-submarine weapon of choice, capable of active or passive acoustic homing. Inside 1000 meters it was deadly.
Zeng clenched his hands, but forced himself to remain calm. “All ahead flank, right full rudder,” he ordered. “Deploy counter measures.”
“Second weapon in the water, range 200 meters,” the operator shouted.
Zeng bit back a panicked outburst. “Full rise! Blow main ballast tanks.”
“My God, what do we do?” Adad cried.
Zeng shouldered past him. “Pray.” He stopped behind the sonar operator’s chair. The man was hunched over his equipment as if he could will the readout to go their way.
“The second weapon is inside our countermeasures,” he said, breathing hard.
A crash rocked the submarine, but no explosion.
“Second weapon struck the coning tower but did not detonate.”
“My God, how many times do those bastards want to kill us?
“First weapon has acquired.”
“First weapon has ignored countermeasures.”
“Impact in ten seconds.”
The boat lurched upward in a steep climb and Zeng grabbed a nearby console for balance. He held his breath, waiting with the rest of the crew to see if the maneuver worked.
“Explosion in our wake!” the sonar operator cried, ripping the headphones from his ears in pain.
Zeng closed his eyes, whispering a prayer of thanks he’d not recited since his childhood. The sub’s sudden veer upward must have confused the Mark 54 seeker. Now if only the torpedo had exploded far enough behind the massive propeller. Zeng held his breath for a few moments, waiting for some indication of trouble. The boat was still in a steep climb.
“Bring planes back to neutral” Zeng said. He knew that leveling the planes would reduce the angle of ascent, provided everything aft was working properly. Instead, the angle got even steeper. He grabbed the periscope housing to keep from falling backward. The damage report confirmed his worst fears.
“Captain, we’ve got major damage aft,” the tinny voice of the Chief engineman echoed through the comm. “We’ve lost all propulsion and the rear weapons compartment is flooding.”
Zeng held out one slim hope for survival. He knew the Scimitar was on the verge of stalling out and simply sinking stern first to the bottom.
“Blow emergency tanks, surface.”
With the added buoyancy, the stricken submarine reached the surface. Her forward deck was awash but her stern remained underwater. She wallowed on the surface like a harpooned whale. Zeng knew it wouldn’t last there long.
“Abandon ship,” barked Adad, anticipating his order.
Zeng and Adad scrambled up to the top of the conning tower, ignoring the frantic preparations of the crew, and gazed over a chaotic scene, as panicked sailors crawled out of the forward main hatch and jumped over the side into the choppy sea.
Zeng noticed a hole the size of a basketball in the starboard side of the conning tower, marking the spot where the second torpedo struck. “We should be thankful that one did not explode. If it had we’d all be fish bait right now.” He prayed some of the crew would survive.
The Vinson lumbered past, still retrieving and launching aircraft. Her destroyer escorts maintained formation. The rearmost destroyer passed within 200 meters of the stricken submarine without slowing down.
Zeng grimaced at the realization the battle group was leaving the survivors to fend for themselves.
“They are leaving us to die,” Adad said.
“They’re afraid there is another hostile submarine in the vicinity. They will send someone back once the carrier is safe.”
He clutched the conning tower as the Scimitar sluggishly rolled onto her port side and began to sink, stern first, slowly at first, and then gathering speed. He locked eyes with Adad and nodded. They jumped free just as the conning tower slid underwater.
With the bow pointed at the heavens, the Scimitar disappeared, leaving only swirling seawater and debris behind. He knew many of her crew were entombed inside and he said a silent prayer for their souls.
He treaded water, blinking the salt from his eyes before he turned toward Adad.
“We just let them take us?” Adad demanded.
“What choice do we have?”
“Humiliation for our family,” Adad sputtered through a mouthful of water.
The swells were increasing as the wind picked up. Zeng spotted a group of survivors riding up a swell. Several of the men had no life jackets. They clung to pieces of debris. Zeng prayed they would last long enough to be rescued. He felt a spurt of impatience. The least the Americans could do was hurry up and get them out of the water.
“Something just bumped against my leg,” Adad said.
Zeng glimpsed a dark shape lurking beneath Adad, then it darted away.
Zeng counted three. They were circling, sizing them up.
“Allah, take me,” Adad said.
“Calm down,” Zeng said, worried Adad was about to panic. “They may not attack.”
Two more fins appeared. Now five sharks were circling. One darted toward Adad, then turned away. Adad slapped his hands against the surface.
“Making a commotion won’t work,” Zeng said, spitting out a mouthful of seawater. “If one gets close enough, strike it in the gills or eyes.”
A scream erupted from a panicked sailor about 30 meters way.
“They’re waiting for an opportunity to attack. Stay strong.”
Two white tipped fins sliced through the water about 10 meters away.
He summoned the last of his strength. Adad would crumble without some spine-stiffening words from his superior.
“There will be a day of reckoning when the Americans are no longer the kings of the sea,” Zeng told him as his teeth began to chatter with cold. “They will be the hunted, not the hunters.”
Adad nodded, and Zeng glared at the carrier, now several kilometers distant. A helicopter lifted off and headed their way. Help was finally on the way.
A dark shape just under the surface turned toward him. It brushed past his waist, and for an instant Zeng felt the shark’s snout nudge against his back as if it was shopping for a tender cut of meat.
He reacted to the shark’s touch as if it was a red-hot poker. He jammed his elbow into the shark’s left eye, then smashed his right knee into its gills. The shark backed away.
A second shape churned past him toward Adad. The Iranian opened his mouth to scream, his eyes wide with fear.
“Fight!” yelled Zeng, reaching toward Adad.
Adad disappeared beneath the surface, as several white tipped fins converged on him at once.
“No!” screamed Zeng. A cresting wave crashed onto him, and carried him away before he could get any closer. His strength was gone, and he could not fight the current any longer. Choking up seawater, he prayed death had come quickly for his friend.
The clattering of rotor blades overhead told Zeng the Americans had finally arrived. Their criminal delay had cost the lives of Adad and several of his beloved crew. Zeng vowed to avenge them.
In the years that followed, Zeng never forgot his experience on the Scimitar, or the brutality of the Americans who sunk her.
The Iranians delayed the delivery of the other three Yuan class submarines, and Zeng was exiled to a diplomatic assignment—Naval Attaché to the United States. He served three years in Washington, D.C., and earned a PhD from George Mason University in International Relations. His doctoral thesis on the effects of unending war was highly acclaimed, and when published, became a best seller. With the notoriety came consulting opportunities with private industry, and eventually the American military, in the course of which he was given access to military personnel. The knowledge he gained ultimately proved to be his salvation.
During the Iranian campaign, when the Americans broke the Iranian blockade and re-opened the Strait of Hormuz by force, Zeng was one of the few who conjectured against the invasion of Bandar-e Abbas by American amphibious forces. Unlike many of the pundits, Zeng understood the limits of American power, and correctly forecast the stalemate that led to the end of hostilities. His growing reputation as an expert on American military matters brought him to the attention of the Politburo once again.
He was recalled to Beijing, and assigned to the Central Military District as Chief of Staff to the Commanding General. As a member of the Chinese delegation responsible for the Peace Accord, his insights on several key military issues resulted in favorable terms for China. Subsequently, he was instrumental in shaping China’s military strategy and became a strong advocate for an expansion of China’s submarine forces.
Following the ascendency of Dai to the Presidency, his Uncle once again brought favor to his nephew by appointing Zeng to the Politburo as the General Secretary of War and Security, the most powerful military and internal security position in China. From there, Zeng set about in earnest to make good on his vow against the Americans. It would be a long and circuitous journey that would end not on the high seas but on the Moon.
Sun Minh stood in the middle of what was only an hour ago a battlefield. Her eyes watered from residual clouds of teargas, and as she stood nervously shifting her weight from one foot to the other, shards of glass from Molotov cocktails and smashed windows cracked beneath her boots. Blood soaked rags marked the resting places of several protesters who had been savagely beaten by police. A smoldering hulk, once a police cruiser, lay on its side, torched by the angry mob. A Nike factory stood in the background, many of its windows broken.
She fidgeted while her cameraman adjusted his camera, and made sure the satellite internet connection was fully functional. Though she was a student at Shandong University majoring in Finance, she spent all of her spare time as a freelance reporter. Taking full advantage of her status as the daughter of one of the Party elite, Sun enjoyed the freedom to express herself in ways ordinary people would never dare. Today, she was filming and interviewing survivors of a protest that, like so many others in recent months, had turned ugly.
She glanced at the subject of her interview, a young man about 24 years of age named, Lin Jiaong. Lin was a factory worker from a poor inland province, and had spent his life thus far in the vast pool of low-cost labor that formed the foundation of China’s economic revival. He had moved from job to job, eking out a subsistence existence for himself and his family. Today he wore dirty brown coveralls and sandals, and sported a reddish bruise on his left cheek, the result of a blow from a police baton.
Lin had operated a stamping machine at the Yueyuan Factory No. 3 in Dongguan in the Guangdong province of China; the factory produced Nike shoes. One day, at the end of his normal shift, he was told his job and those of 1500 other workers had been outsourced to a lower cost subcontractor in Nigeria. He was given one week’s severance; barely enough to pay his way home to Jiangxi province. It was a sad, but fairly typical, hard luck story these days.
Sun’s cameraman signaled his readiness, and she turned to face the camera with the grisly backdrop plain to see behind her.
“This is Sun Ming, reporting from Dongguan, where a peaceful protest by laid off workers at this Nike shoe factory was violently crushed by police only minutes ago. With me is Lin Jiaong, one of the protesters.”
Turning to Lin, she said, “What were the protesters doing when the police arrived?”
“We were standing together listening to the man tell us about jobs like ours being lost all over China.”
“And how did you and the rest of the protesters feel about that?”
“We were angry at the central government, and the Party for allowing it to happen.”
“Was anyone doing anything violent, like breaking windows or setting fire to cars?”
“Not until after the police arrived.”
Sun raised an eyebrow. “And what did the police do?”
“First, they told us that our meeting was against the law, and we had to disperse or face arrest.” Lin answered the questions confidently, but he kept his head bowed. She knew it was difficult for him to face the camera.
“What did you do then?”
“We told the police we had the right to air our grievances in a peaceful way. Some of us held up signs.”
“How did the police react?”
“They threw tear gas canisters, and began beating us with sticks and batons. I was struck in the face.” He lifted a hand to his cheek.
Sun nodded. “What happened then?”
“Some of the protesters tried to fight back by throwing stones, and bottles. Someone set fire to a police cruiser. Then I heard several gunshots, and screams, so I started running away along with many others. I was lucky to get away. Many protesters were hurt.”
Turning back to face the camera, Sun said, “What you’ve just heard is a familiar story, another instance of peaceful protest put down by force. When is our government going to wake up to the fact China is moving inexorably toward a more open society offering opportunity for all? China’s masses will no longer accept low wages and no benefits while the elite in Beijing, and the coastal cities profit handsomely from exports. Our currency must be revalued to encourage imports, and improve the standard of living of all our people. Repression must be replaced by the free flow of ideas.”
Sun Minh’s words spread through China, and the world, wherever there was internet access. They even found their way into the so-called “White Paper,” the revolutionary internal policy analysis recommending a shift in China’s economy from a centrally controlled totalitarian system to one based on free markets and the open flow of ideas, along the line of Western norms.
Politburo Chambers, Beijing
Soon after joining the inner sanctum of China’s elite, Zeng learned that impromptu or last minute meetings of the Politburo, rarely yielded results. Typically, they failed because the path to action by the Politburo was paved with pork. Each member had to be plied with a personal favor, a promise, or a gift that gave him a stake in the outcome. This took time, and had to be done quietly, without fanfare. Further, the Politburo was made up of men who valued caution over boldness, reflection over impulse, and above all else inaction over action. All else being equal, they opted to do nothing. Anyone familiar with the ways of the Politburo would know these things. So why had President Dai called an emergency meeting to discuss the so-called White Paper? Was it his way of shelving it? That would be fine with Zeng.
In Zeng’s black and white world, the White Paper was the work of seditionist criminals who deserved nothing but a quick execution. Other members of the Politburo held other views, but today was not the day to debate economic theories. He had other ideas. Holding up a copy of the White Paper, he directed his gaze at the other members of the Party elite gathered around the huge mahogany conference table.
“This is not the answer.” For dramatic effect, he tossed the controversial report into a nearby trashcan, where it landed with a loud THUMP. The sudden noise caught several members dozing off, and he suppressed a laugh as several sets of half closed eyelids snapped open. Satisfied that he’d gotten their attention, he went on. “Further protests by displaced workers, and students must be suppressed, by force if necessary. But repression of dissent is not enough. It’s like fighting a house fire while allowing more and more gasoline to flow in the door. Ideas such as workers’ rights, free speech, and democratic reforms are fuel for the current crisis.”
There were nods of agreement around the table, mostly from the hardliners. Zeng noticed that the others, like Qi, whom he identified as moderates, gave no signs of support.
“Like a virus transmitted by the air we breathe, new and dangerous ideas spread online. At the dawn of the internet age, we naively believed the cure was simply to block it from the People. Unfortunately, despite unprecedented efforts, it is now apparent that’s no more possible than stopping leaks in a dike about to burst. Every day, millions of our People log on and expose themselves to infection.”
Pausing for effect, Zeng glanced around the conference table, making eye contact with every member of the Politburo except Qi, whose head was down, seemingly preoccupied with notes he was making on yellow legal pad.
“The United States is the breeding ground for the subversive ideologies that plague the internet. Any effort to curtail these ideas accordingly must start there.”
“And just what do you propose we do?” Qi said, his eyes still cast downward. “Surely, you are not proposing that we wage cyber warfare against the Americans.” His words were laced with cynicism.
“Not at all Comrade. All I propose to do, is show our People why our system is superior to the Americans. Once they embrace true Chinese hegemony, American ideology will lose its appeal.”
Qi raised his head and confronted Zeng. “You can’t be serious. The United States would have to collapse before our People would accept such an idea.”
“Precisely my point.”
“Just what sort of demonstration do you have in mind?”
“Colonizing the Moon. Only China possesses the will and resources needed. The United States economy is in shambles after years of war, and their space technology is outdated. Their space shuttles are museum pieces, gathering rust. A Moon mission will push the country into bankruptcy, just as the old Soviet Union collapsed when faced with the Reagan era military buildup.”
For a moment the chamber was silent. It was apparent Qi, and the other moderates were caught off guard, unprepared for such a far-reaching proposal. Even members aligned with Zeng’s hard line policies seemed surprised. It did not take long, however, before Qi gathered his wits and challenged Zeng’s fundamental premise. “The American have already been to the Moon. Why would they want to return?”
“The Moon contains mineral deposits of potentially great value. The data from our lunar probes indicate the surface regolith contains vast quantities of Helium-3.”
That got the attention of the Minister of Interior, one of the more open-minded moderates, and often a key swing vote. “Helium-3 is the fuel used in our fusion reactors, but terrestrial supplies of it are very limited. If the Moon proves to be an abundant fuel source, there is much to gain.” The old man almost quivered with excitement. For a moment Zeng thought he might have a stroke.
“The first nation to colonize the Moon will claim these riches to the exclusion of all that follow. The new American President is a former astronaut, and knows this all too well. The Moon will be her crack cocaine, the endeavor that destroys her Administration, and pushes the United States into financial ruin.” Zeng paused to give the group time to absorb what they had just heard. He smiled as several members huddled together in private discussions, now confident his proposal was getting traction.
“And what if the Americans do not accept the challenge?” asked Qi.
“The Moon’s deposits of Helium-3 will make China the foremost supplier of fusion reactor fuel. Our economy will flourish, and our People will enjoy a standard of living that is unsurpassed anywhere on Earth. It may take a little longer for American ideology to fall into disrepute, but in the end their corrupt system will fail anyway.”
The Minister of Interior called for a vote on Zeng’s proposal, in the process making it clear he intended to vote in favor of it. Zeng bowed in polite acknowledgement, careful not to reveal his true feelings. The old fossil had no idea of the Moon’s real value. With a few long-range ballistic missiles based on the Moon, China would have an insurmountable strategic advantage over the Americans. The full Moon would be a symbol of China’s dominance. It would instill fear in the mind of every American. How he longed for that day.
In the end, Qi was the final holdout. “The Americans have shown time and again they can rise to a challenge. Indeed, they won the first race to the Moon after falling behind the old Soviet Union. What makes you think this will be any different?”
“Our space program is light years ahead of them. The best outcome for China would be for the Americans to launch their own mission. We will win the race, and the hearts of our People. Chinese hegemony will replace American ideology.” The Minister of the Interior stood and applauded, followed by the rest of the Politburo, even Qi. Zeng flushed with triumph, basking in the adulation of his peers.
In his heart, however, Zeng knew Qi was right. It would be foolish to count the Americans out. He would make sure they failed no matter what.
Washington, D.C. Metro
Chris Cooper gazed out the graffiti-etched window of the Orange Line train. The Washington, DC, Metro had seen better days. Once brightly colored seats were cracked, stained and discolored from age, and several were loose on their mountings. Swaths of duct tape held together broken arms and seat legs. The smell of dust, decay, and sweat permeated the car. His nose began to run, and he sneezed. He knew he was only minutes away from a full-blown allergy attack. The car must be riddled with mold.
It had been a rough day. First, an early morning meeting with the staff to prepare for testimony before the House Committee on Space on Wednesday, and then a lunch meeting with two contractors in Roslyn to go over work on the budget request for the next fiscal year. He regretted having the martini. Now, he was on the wrong side of a buzz heading back to the office to catch up on email, and paper work he should have handled already.
He loosened his belt a notch, and made a mental note to get to the gym this week. Too many high calorie business lunches, and a series of desk jobs with NASA, now part of the International Space Agency, had transformed his steel-like abs into a flaccid paunch that hung over his belt buckle like a sack of flour. He vowed to get back on the daily workout, and diet routine once the next space exploration program was completed. Except there always was another more exciting program next in line. At least there had been, until the budget cuts began.
He glanced up as an attractive young woman three rows up stood and made her way to the door. She was wearing a red ski parka, and black ski pants. The outfit reminded him of the one his wife, Danielle Dubois, had worn the day they met, almost twenty years previously. Dani, a second year law student with a cheerleader’s body, had sat next to him on the bus ride from the University of Washington campus to the White Pass ski resort. Never at a loss for words, she’d drawn out the quiet starting linebacker on the Rose Bowl Champion Husky football team. Over the next three hours, he’d been captivated by her wit and incredible beauty, wishing he had more to talk about than just football and aeronautics. Time passed in a blur, and the next thing he knew they were seated on the main chairlift, headed for the top of the mountain. Decked out in her red ski parka, white goggles and black stretch pants, with her shoulder length auburn hair streaming in the breeze behind her, Dani looked like a ski goddess.
But when the chair reached the top of the lift, his image of Dani’s perfection had been shattered. She stumbled as she slid off the chairlift, and fell flat on her face, spread-eagled in the snow like arctic road kill. Had he not had the presence of mind to drag her away, she would have been unceremoniously run over by an endless stream of skiers unloading from subsequent chairs.
“Nice move, huh?” she said, snow stuck to her cheeks and chin.
“I’ve seen better moves in the circus.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Help me up.”
She dusted herself off, and wasted no time heading toward the nearest novice trail. Chris, an expert skier, would never have chosen the trail himself, but he was too busy marveling at how nicely her five foot, seven inch frame filled out the red ski parka, and black stretch pants to be embarrassed being seen on the easy run.
The trail sloped gently downward through a large stand of evergreens draped with snow. Dani began a slow descent, and Chris passed her, controlling his gathering speed with a few lazy S-turns. He glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see her just behind him. No one was there. He looked again, all the way back to the trailhead, and spotted the red parka. It was barely moving. Something told him he’d better wait for her.
He would never forget the sight of Dani in the classic novice skier’s position, skis pointed together in a V-shaped snowplow, inching her way down the slope toward him. When she had finally reached him after an agonizing ten minutes of what had to be the worst skiing he’d ever observed, she slipped her goggles off with a flourish, her blue eyes blazing with excitement. She acted like she’d just won the Olympic downhill in world record time.
“I made it all this way without falling. Let’s go have a drink by the fire and celebrate.” Her words resonated with him like none ever had before, and suddenly he wanted to take her in his arms and kiss her. Only a small detail stood in the way.
“We’re only part way down the hill.” He gestured in the direction of the trail. About ten meters ahead, the tree line ended, and the trail fell away in a vast open slope over two kilometers in length, and four hundred meters in vertical drop. Freshly fallen snow blanketed the slope. The lodge was barely visible in the distance.
“How on earth do we get down that?” The triumphant look was gone, replaced by genuine fear. Chris felt like a schmuck. It was his fault. He’d been so caught up by his emotions he’d ignored the obvious fact she did not know how to ski. All the signs had been there. Now she would think he was nothing but an egocentric jock, or just an ass. And he really was starting to like this woman.
“Can you snow plow the rest of the way down? You seem quite good at it.” He bit his lip, wishing he’d held back on the sarcasm. This was no time to be flip.
“If I go another inch with my legs crossed I am going to split in half.”
“Have you ever been skiing before?”
“Not on snow,” she admitted. “But I have been water skiing.”
The cloud of doom started to lift. She did not seem angry at all. Chris laughed, “Well, I don’t have a boat and a rope, so you’ll have to find another way to get down this hill before the bus leaves without us.”
“You’re not going to leave me here to freeze?”
“Hell no,” he said, smiling. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.” He began to think he still might have a chance with her.
Dani frowned for a moment, then sat down, released the bindings on her skis, and began sliding down the hill.
“What are you doing?” he said. “You’ll wear a hole in your pants.”
Ten meters down the hill and gaining speed, she yelled over her shoulder, ”Bring my skis. I’ll meet you at the bottom.”
They descended in tandem, Dani sliding on her butt and Chris gracefully executing S-turns to keep pace with her, her skis over his shoulder, while keeping a watchful eye for other skiers who might stumble upon them. About half way down, he spotted a snow boarder, barreling straight toward them, apparently intent on beating his personal best time for the straight downhill, balls-to-the wall run. The idiot was going so fast, Chris braced for a collision, determined to shield Dani. The snow boarder made a last minute cut, lost his balance and fell sideways, sliding into Dani amidst a swirling cloud of snow and ice.
“Oh, God,” cried Chris. Images of shattered bones and broken teeth crossed his mind.
Moments later, Chris skidded to a stop next to the prone snow boarder. He’d done a face plant. Dani sat motionless few feet away. He side stepped over to her and said, “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine, just a little sore where his leg hit me.”
The snowboarder groaned and rolled over, slowly moving his arms and head. He seemed to be checking to see if anything was broken. Apparently not, because in a few moments he stood on his board, brushing the snow from his from his face and goggles. Chris could see he was only a kid, maybe thirteen or fourteen, but he clearly was upset. Glaring at Dani, he said, “What the hell were you doing, lady?”
Chris moved to intervene, ready to take the kid down if he made a move toward Dani. She waved him off with a flick of her hand. “Making my way down the hill.”
“On your ass! You’re lucky I was able to dodge you.”
“Look kid. As I see it, you were going way too fast. Next time take it easy.”
The kid turned to him, and appealed for help. “I do not believe what I’m hearing, dude.”
Chris shrugged, and said nothing. His facial expression said, “Too bad kid. I’m on her side.”
“Now be on your way,” said Dani. “I still have a ways to go.” She resumed her decent and never looked back. For a moment the kid and Chris stood together, staring at the butt shaped track she left behind.
“Nice ass,” the kid said. Then, he had jumped his board and headed down the hill before Chris could reply.
Just then the conductor’s voice announced their arrival at Federal Center SW, Chris’ stop, and his mind snapped back to the present. It was then that he noticed the young lady’s ass. It reminded him of Dani’s.
Over Sea of Oman
Since graduating from Purdue University with a PhD in Electrical Engineering, Lieutenant Junior Grade Wendy Nagumo, USNR, call sign “Cheetah,” never missed an opportunity to fly, not as a pilot but in the rear seat of F-18 Super Hornets. While she had the hand-eye coordination, and motor skills to be a pilot, her passion was radar, air-to-air weaponry and communications. So when she was offered the opportunity to become a naval aviator, she eagerly accepted on the condition she would be assigned as a Radar Intercept Officer or RIO.
Flying Combat Air Patrol, or CAP in their two seat F-18F, Wendy and her pilot, Lieutenant Jack Sanford, call sign “Dogman,” patrolled an air space 300 kilometers in diameter, at the center of which was positioned one of the Navy’s crown jewels, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered super carrier.
“Talk to me, Cheetah,” Sanford said over the intercom.
Wendy studied the APG-79 AESA radar. “No bogies.”
“Remember what the skipper told us in pre-flight. The Iranians may try to provoke us.”
The Reagan patrolled the Gulf of Oman, protecting shipping throughout the region, especially through the Strait of Hormuz. At least one carrier battle group had been on station at all times since the United States broke the Iranian blockade of the Strait with an amphibious landing at Bandar-e Abbas.
The Iranians resented the presence of the United States Navy in waters they considered their own, and constantly harassed the Reagan with air incursions into the Reagan’s “space.” Typically, an Iranian aircraft would feign an attack, crossing the 150 km marker, then veer off and head for home before the CAP arrived.
“Got it,” Wendy said.
“Check with Hotdog, and make sure she has enough fuel. It’s going to be another twenty minutes before we meet up with the tanker.”
“Hotdog” was the call sign for Lieutenant Gena Overby, flying a single seat F18E five kilometers to their starboard. She served as wingman and covered Sanford’s rear under combat conditions.
After a quick check with Overby, Wendy was back on the intercom. “Hotdog is good for another fifteen; that’s it.”
A series of chirps in her headset alerted her the AESA radar had detected aircraft headed their way. “Four unidentified bogies headed our way at 900 knots, bearing 065,” she said. “ETA five minutes.”
“Roger that, going to military power,” Sanford said. “Notify Hotdog, and Flight.”
The F-18 veered sharply to the right, and accelerated to Mach 1.5 in a matter of seconds. She felt her G suit constrict around her abdomen, and legs, restricting the blood flow to her lower body. Her vision grayed out momentarily.
“Fifteen seconds until closure,” she said. With a combined speed of 3000 kilometers per hour, the F-18’s and bogies were closing the gap fast.
“Ten seconds to closure. Five seconds. There they are!”
Four twin-tailed fighters with Iranian markings, and desert camouflage streaked by on their port side.
Sanford yanked the stick to bring them around onto the tails of the Iranians. “Those are Russian T-50’s. If they want a head-to-head fight, our F-18’s are no match for them.”
“Four more bogies, bearing 245, same profile,” Wendy said, now tracking all eight opposing aircraft. Sanford spun their aircraft in the tightest possible turn, and the G force felt like a pile driver on her chest.
“Where the hell did they come from?”
“The first four were decoys. The last four waited to jump our six.”
“Call Flight. Tell them to launch the Alert fighters.”
The carrier kept two additional fighters in reserve, ready to launch on a moment’s notice. Lieutenant, JG, Wyatt “Ringworm” Stevens was on Cat 1 and Lieutenant, JG, Sarah “Slasher” Knox was on Cat 3, both flying single seat F-18E’s.
“Flight says five minutes until they reach us.”
“We may be dead by then.”
AL JAZEERA NEWS BROADCAST
TEHRAN: Allied ground forces completed their withdrawal from the Bander-e Abbas naval base and surrounding region today in accordance with the Peace Accord that was brokered by China and Russia. The withdrawal marks the end of the American invasion of Iran over access to the Strait of Hormuz.
Thanks to the heroic actions of the Revolutionary Guard, two Nimitz class carriers and three Los Angeles class nuclear submarines now lie at the bottom of the Strait of Hormuz. They join the Iranian submarine Scimitar, sunk by American naval forces over five years ago.
The Iranian sub was on a peaceful mission when it was torpedoed without provocation. Only a few sailors escaped the doomed vessel before it sank, and many of them perished in the shark-infested waters, thanks to the slow response of American rescue forces. The souls of the brave men who perished that fateful day rejoiced at today’s news.
Review by: Norm Goldman, Montreal Books Examiner
Reviewer: Cody Flatt, Two Full Time Jobs
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