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The rule of the people, p.31
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       The Rule Of The People, p.31

           Christopher Read

  Chapter 14 – Thursday, November 24th

  Zhanjiang, China – 10:48 Local Time; 02:48 UTC

  General Liang stood in the Naval Command Centre watching the latest dispositions as to the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, the two carrier strike groups soon to be joined by a third. So far China’s navy had chosen a cautious line in the conflict, fully prepared to test itself against its powerful foe, just waiting for the necessary orders from Beijing.

  The problem remained as it always had done, the Politburo – like the White House – wary of the conflict escalating into a more vicious war. America’s capture of Mischief and Subi Reefs had been the first serious set-back, President Deangelo’s rapid response and the Pentagon’s choice of target unexpected. It was assumed at least one more reef would be attacked, America able to pick them off at its leisure, every one of China’s island territories at risk. China’s decision to step back from a direct confrontation with America was clearly now unsustainable, a cycle of attrition the likely next stage with each side trying to seek some small advantage before the aggression turned into a genuine search for peace. The counter would have to be chosen carefully, China’s missile systems ready to exact revenge, the navy and air force potentially with the ability to take out as least one of America’s carriers.

  A month – even two weeks – ago that would have certainly been the preferred choice; now the Politburo was looking for a way out, one last attempt being made to persuade America as to the real dangers of the path ahead before the inevitable concessions could be thrashed out across the negotiating table. Whatever the final accord, it would need to be sold as a clear victory, otherwise the agreement over Taiwan would in turn be seen as nothing more than a step too far, Liang likely to be one of the first to suffer the subsequent backlash.

  “One minute to go, Sir,” said an officer politely. Liang nodded in thanks, moving across to join the Admiral, both men keen to see how the Americans reacted to this new threat. It was a ploy Liang had once regarded as too great a risk and simply one more factor the CMC would be unable to control, barely even to influence; now, it was seen as a quick and effective way to strengthen China’s hand.

  The first news report flashed across the screen, it at least on time. The Western media took a few minutes to respond, Reuters quickly spreading the word. One brief statement from the state-run news agency of a Third World country and the rest of the world immediately sat up and took notice – it was impressive and at the same time disturbing.

  Liang guessed at a couple of hours for the U.S. to react, prepared to wait it out. He would have preferred to have remained in Beijing; however, the Politburo had wanted a steady hand in Zhanjiang, worried as to what President Deangelo might do, Liang able to override the Admiral’s subsequent orders if he saw fit.

  In fact it took less than an hour for a surge of activity in the Command Centre to warn Liang that something was happening, the Admiral quick to confirm the Americans had taken the bait.

  “The Carrier Group headed by the USS Gerald Ford is definitely turning north-east and away from the Spratly Islands; Japan and South Korea have also increased their state of alert.” The Admiral was nervous, well aware of the dangers ahead, others now controlling China’s fate.

  More reports came in, Liang deeply worried yet also a little relieved. So far, the Politburo’s tactic had worked as planned, the U.S. having to redeploy her naval forces to protect against an additional threat.

  The joker of North Korea had finally been played, a typically bellicose announcement from the government in Pyongyang just the first step. It was barely a hundred words, confirming that North Korea’s military had been ordered to support its ally the People’s Republic of China, every possible means to be used to assist China in its defence of the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

  Now America had a second adversary to worry about, one whose actions not even China could predict, Pyongyang as likely to order a missile strike on Seoul or Tokyo as do absolutely nothing.

  Moscow – 09:44 Local Time; 06:44 UTC

  Markova led the way cautiously along the northern edge of Vozdvizhenka Street, careful to ensure she was never too far from the protection of a doorway or wall. Other than her ten-man section, the street was completely deserted – no people, no traffic, and everyone had either moved out or were in hiding, well knowing what would happen next. Less than half-a-kilometre to the east the Kremlin’s Trinity Tower stood out proud and tall, beckoning them forward.

  Markova’s one night at Khodynka had been as difficult as any. Starting soon after midnight the sound of far-off gunfire had become a regular companion, several explosions lighting up the sky to the south-east. The fighting didn’t seem to be confined to a single street or even a small area; never that close, it had covered a good part of the city to both south and east. One GRU patrol had tried to circle round to the north and get through to Red Square but had come under attack from at least two snipers; bodies lay as they’d fallen on virtually every street, the patrol counting well over twenty.

  Surveillance drones had revealed some of the truth behind the rumours reaching Khodynka, with the Kremlin Arsenal the centre of a fierce gun battle. The Kremlin Regiment had finally chosen to declare its own divided loyalties, friends and comrades apparently engaged in a vicious battle for supremacy, no quarter given. The fighting had lasted until early morning, several parts of the three hundred metre long Arsenal building on fire, the Kremlin’s stone courtyards stained red all the way to the Senate.

  A more detailed account had emerged from those that had managed to slip away: the faction supporting Morozov had first attempted to break through into the Senate but had been beaten back, taking refuge in the Arsenal. The rest of the Regiment had been forced into taking sides and even those wishing to remain neutral had come under fire. A tenacious stand of defiance had soon turned into a struggle to survive, hundreds having to battle their way out of the Kremlin, the exchange of gunfire spilling over into the surrounding streets.

  More reports told of fierce fighting outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel and again near to the Ministry of Defence. A live feed from the Lubyanka, less than a kilometre to the north-east of the Kremlin, had shown several armed gangs moving through the semi-darkened streets, all heading south. As far as anyone could judge, they were pro-Morozov, some perhaps a little too keen to exact their revenge.

  Now Markova was about to do the same, the memory of eighteen months earlier when she and Nikolai had fought through the corridors of the Senate Building still fresh in her mind. General Morozov and his troops had been their saviour that day, persuaded by Golubeva to intervene. Now the main fight could well take place outside of the Kremlin walls, T-14 tanks ready and waiting in Red Square, the rumours that Golubeva had fled Moscow obviously nothing more than that.

  Although some parts of the Kremlin were normally open to visitors, it remained the preserve of Russia’s president, the key building of the Senate just visible from Red Square. Roughly triangular in shape, the apex of the Kremlin points due north, Red Square to the east, Alexander Garden to the west, the southern edge facing the Moskva River; in places the protective red brick walls are more than six metres thick, up to nineteen metres high.

  Outnumbered and quite possibly outgunned, General Morozov’s hopes rested almost entirely on a renewed surge of support and to some extent his optimism had already proved justified. Overnight their small force had grown to some two thousand and it now included four APCs (Armoured Personnel Carrier), all armed with a 30mm cannon, Morozov trusting it would be enough to give them at least a chance of winning what would be the final battle. The people, the army, everyone – they all needed to see a clear-cut victory, not some drawn-out siege and yet another short-lived leader emerging from the shadows.

  General Morozov might be determined to put an end to Golubeva’s presidency but his experience with urban warfare was insignificant, and his plan was for a slow and steady advance – no point in wasting such frugal resources in the va
in hope of a quick victory. On the plus side, the General had a clear advantage in terms of intelligence, the FSB and GRU shrugging of Golubeva’s authority to work together, ably assisted by everything from rumour to high-resolution images from both satellites and drones. Whether it was down to Morozov’s reputation or the fact that – unlike Irina Golubeva – he was actually from the military, then the President’s allies now numbered far less than anyone had anticipated. A handful of the tanks and IFVs that had been tasked with protecting the Kremlin had already swapped their allegiance and it was almost as if everyone expected Morozov to win with ease, Golubeva’s support haemorrhaging by the hour. The latest estimate of around twenty tanks and three thousand men still gave her a clear advantage, the five hundred men of the Presidential Security Service (PSB) likely to be totally loyal: similar in function to the U.S. Secret Service, any lack of heavy weapons could easily be rectified from the Kremlin’s vast supply.

  General Morozov was attempting multiple attacks, various routes towards the Kremlin being probed for some weakness; he had been insistent that it would be criminal to try and breech the massive walls and somehow a more acceptable alternative had to be found – if it duly came at a relatively high cost, then so be it.

  Markova kept to the sidewalk, wary of direct line of sight from the eighty-metre high Trinity Tower. It in turn was guarded by the outer Kutafya Tower, a narrow hundred metre ramp – the Trinity Bridge – arching over the Alexander Garden to join the two towers. The Trinity Gate formed the main visitor’s entrance to the Kremlin, the Senate another two hundred metres beyond.

  Strung out behind Markova was the rest of her section, all with military experience, half of them – like her – members of the FSB’s elite Alpha Group. Looking like some ragtag company from some long-forgotten war, well over two hundred more fighters followed on, keeping to the side streets to north and south. Kremlin Regiment, army, FSB, GRU, National Guard, police and civilians – they wore a wide range of uniforms and insignia, some casually dressed in padded jacket and jeans, a blue ribbon or a piece of cloth signifying their allegiance to General Morozov’s cause. All of the civilians claimed they’d had significant military experience, their average age at least fifty, their reasons for joining Morozov varied and often confused, Markova having to hope they were all genuine. The National Guard and police volunteers were going against the compromise thrashed out the previous day but again no-one turned them away, every additional man and woman welcomed without comment.

  For those risking their lives on the deserted and icy streets of Moscow, the chain of command was often a debatable concept. The few in an officer’s uniform generally had some semblance of authority and while Markova’s decision to lead from the front was outdated, it seemed the quickest way to gain the unit’s respect. Loosely organised into five platoons, most of the makeshift unit were armed with assault rifles, anything from a brand-new AK-12 to a sixty year-old AK-47; other than six anti-tank rockets and two reusable launchers, they had no heavy weapons and just one APC, the General’s own attack on Red Square considered the priority.

  The chatter of gunfire could clearly be heard in the distance, together with the dull thump of an occasional explosion. Markova had already lost three men to a sniper stationed in the Trinity Tower and the route south then east was proving slow and tortuous, every building and alleyway treated with suspicion. Beyond the tower a dark ribbon of smoke floated gently upwards, the battle for Red Square having begun almost an hour earlier. Golubeva’s protective line of tanks would prove a difficult challenge for Morozov’s own armoured units, the General also lacking in suitable heavy weapons.

  Markova’s approach to the west wall of the Kremlin might be less open than a broad square but that didn’t mean it would be easy. Reports suggested the PSB had occupied several key buildings close to the Kutafya Tower, a single T-90 tank sitting patiently alongside. A drone had managed to confirm the position of the tank but nothing more, it shot down almost immediately.

  Markova waved everyone to a halt while she studied the way ahead, the edge of a building offering some protection. Diagonally across the street was one of several buildings which together formed the State Library; a couple of snipers hidden there could wreak havoc, able to cover an attack from virtually any direction. To simply bypass it would save time but it was a significant risk, Markova quick to realise she had little choice.

  Using a whole platoon was probably overkill but Markova played safe, watching as the attackers gradually worked their way into the library buildings from the south and west. Markova tried to stay patient, not expecting miracles, just wanting the rooms facing Vozdvizhenka Street to be cleared first.

  It was a good fifteen minutes before she heard the first shots. This wasn’t just one or two snipers, the Library occupied by at least a dozen men, maybe as many as twenty. The attack was quickly becoming bogged down with booby-traps a constant fear, the number of casualties steadily mounting.

  Markova accepted the inevitable and sent in a second platoon, a third moving cautiously along Vozdvizhenka Street in support. Abruptly a machine-gun opened up, men and women scattering to take whatever cover they could as bullets whizzed past, ricocheting from walls and the road surface. There was a second and more sustained burst of gunfire, the flicker of muzzle-flashes coming from a tall corner building close to the Kutafya Tower, several more guns blazing from the third-floor windows of the State Library.

  Markova spoke rapidly into her body mic, trying to target every problem, her immediate priority the machine-gun. Within seconds their sole APC moved out from a nearby side-street, its 30mm cannon raking across the Library windows before quickly turning towards the corner building, a line of tracers gradually climbing ever higher.

  The APC was dallying too long, Markova’s orders ignored as its commander tried to prove his worth, no thought given as to other dangers. There was the crackle of return fire and moments later a dull thump as the T-90 tank revealed its power. The APC seemed to give an angry shudder then it simply disintegrated, a lethal spray of jagged metal flying through the air, the sound of the explosion drowning out the screams of the wounded and the dying.

  Markova knew she should pull everyone back and regroup but that too was a risk. A choking cloud of dirty-grey dust was swirling along the street and, driven by adrenalin, she raced forward, thudding into the protection of a doorway before barging her way inside, the door not even locked; half-a-dozen others were quick to join her, anywhere safer than the killing zone of Vozdvizhenka Street.

  The sign inside was a warning that Markova had made a serious mistake, the building just one of many properties run by the Kremlin for the privileged few, and she stood uncertainly, momentarily struggling to understand why the woman standing beside the reception desk was all dressed in white.

  In fact it was a lavishly equipped medical centre, the staff already getting ready to receive the wounded, no indication given that it mattered which side they were on. In anticipation of an attack, the few patients staying overnight had been moved hours earlier to the rear of the building and Markova’s section was quick to occupy the third floor, trying to provide cover for those struggling to survive out on the street.

  For the time being the State Library became the unit’s only priority, well over a hundred men and women working to flush out the defenders, one treacherous room at a time. From the first shots to the last, it took them close to two hours, a handful of Golubeva’s men managing to make their escape; many more did not, each brief but intense firefight a bloody example as to the tenacity of both sides.

  A form of relative quiet returned, broken only by the cries of those no-one could help. The unit’s casualties were as bad as Markova had feared, fifteen dead, close to forty injured. The rest of General Morozov’s units were similarly struggling to make headway, three tanks lost with nothing to show for it. Every separate attack was meeting stiff resistance, Golubeva’s forces with time enough to prepare and plan.

  For Markova
s unit, the Trinity Gate had now become their sole objective, at least for the first day. The T-90 tank still sat immobile on the pedestrian square outside the Kutafya Tower: armed with a 125mm cannon and two machine-guns, it was a brute of a tank, its laminated front armour impervious to Markova’s only anti-tank weapon, the RPG-32. General Morozov’s increasingly inadequate arsenal lacked even the basics of a single attack helicopter and his own tanks were obviously needed elsewhere, it down to Markova to find a suitable way forward.

  The RPG-32 was purely a point-and-shoot system, simple to use, and under the right circumstances its HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) rockets were relatively effective. The T-90’s armour thinned out from front to rear, and while the side skirts and hull were vulnerable, the tank was already immobile by choice. The armour thickness protecting the turret sides was close to the limit of the rocket’s abilities but unless Markova could find a way to get behind the tank, it was their only option; even then, one chance might be all they got before the tank’s semi-automated systems blasted them into the next world. To delay and wait for night would in all likelihood not make the task any easier, night-vision goggles a relatively scarce item in Morozov’s armoury but sadly not the Kremlin’s.

  The right flank of the T-90 was protected by the corner building; on the left was the Manege, a historic oblong building used as an exhibition hall – occupied by at least twenty defenders, it was also overlooked by the corner building. By default, the latter had become the key to any further advance, Markova accepting there was no quick and easy solution.

  The corner building was part of a group built in the 1840s and later extended; Ho Chi Minh had even been one of several communist activists renting office space there in the 1920s. It was now part of the State Library’s publishing arm and any attempt to approach it from the Alexander Garden would bring the attackers into direct line of sight of the tank’s machine-guns and Trinity Tower. It would be the same for the Manege, the defenders ensuring that virtually every attempt to break through could be hit from at least two directions.

  The corner building still wasn’t invulnerable and Markova chose to approach it from the south, leading a squad of twenty-four through the network of other buildings and past an inner courtyard. It was a slow and nerve-wracking task even though there was no opposition; in fact, no sign of anyone at all, the only loud sounds that of a lock snapping.

  It took close to an hour to reach their initial target, a suite of offices belonging to the Russian Academy of Sciences. Across a small paved area stood the corner building, its ground-floor windows dark and inviting, no hint of any movement inside, the only light that shining down from the upper floors.

  Markova checked to ensure the other units were ready: suppressing fire from the State Library and an assault on the Manege would hopefully be enough of a diversion to give Markova’s squad a chance – whether the Manege in turn became something more productive was at their officer’s discretion, Markova trusting that he wouldn’t risk everything in a foolish grab for glory.

  Abruptly the street outside erupted into gunfire, those in the State Library unwilling to wait any longer. With Markova leading the way, the squad raced across to the far building, windows smashed as they fought to get inside; six of the squad had a different target in mind, breaking into the rear of the adjoining building, next to the Kremlin Ticket Office.

  Markova found herself in a small office; outside was a narrow corridor and far too many doors, the layout not making it easy to work out which way to go. The ground floor seemed unoccupied, the steady crackle of automatic weapons from the floors above encouraging them to move ever higher, the machine-gun Markova’s prime concern.

  The building was a warren of rooms and offices, the squad having to work by sound and instinct, there no time to clear it floor by floor. It quickly turned into a series of minor skirmishes, not quite hand-to-hand, a grenade often needed to clear the way forward. Markova was close to losing track of what was happening around her, unsure even what floor she was on, always trying to work her way towards the insistent clatter of the machine-gun. It was all taking far too long to neutralise the building and she was increasingly worried as to what was taking place in the street outside, certain now that – despite their orders – the rest of the unit was moving forward in support. Markova’s own attack was slowly losing impetus, the squad reduced to half its number, ammunition running low.

  On the second floor of the adjoining building, the six-man section had managed to work their way unnoticed to the front. Two of the six each carried an anti-tank launcher, only one of them having ever fired something similar before. The resultant back-blast meant it was ill-advised to use the launcher in confined spaces but better that than outside in full view of the T-90 tank.

  It sat some fifty metres away, not quite side-on. One shot each, maybe two, that was the very best they could hope for, the chance of a kill perhaps fifty-fifty.

  The tank commander’s concentration was focused more on the dangers he could actually see than those hidden away to his left and the T-90 abandoned its static vigil to edge forward, the tank’s two machine-guns first targeting the attack on the Manege. Job done, the tank pivoted around to the left, the State Library coming into view; the Library buildings had previously been sacrosanct, now each and every threat would meet the same explosive response, necessity having no place for sentiment.

  To those waiting on the second floor, it was the ideal move, placing the turret almost perfectly side-on. The first operator needed no further encouragement, the rocket striking the base of the turret, a bright flash of light followed on instantly by a disappointing puff of smoke. The second operator wasn’t quite ready and he raced to follow suit, the rocket deflecting off the rounded turret. Not that the operator saw any of this, the effects of the back-blast magnified by the small office in which he stood, he and one of his comrades killed instantly.

  The tank was hurt but not out of action, the turret turning, the remotely controlled machine-gun peppering the building, no specific target yet identified. That changed instantly when the third rocket was fired, it hitting close to the rear of the turret and punching its way through.

  The sound of the explosion reached those still fighting on the top floor of the corner building, windows shattering in sympathy. It didn’t quite signify the end of the battle for the Kutafya Tower but the eventual outcome was no longer in doubt. The remaining defenders were outnumbered four-to-one, the corner building the first to fall, the T-90 tank still wreathed in smoke and flame.

  By the time darkness fell just after four o’clock, the Manege was also under Markova’s control, the gates of the Kutafya Tower open and inviting. The cost in human lives had been severe with another twenty dead to be added to Markova’s conscience. Her unit had fought together for just seven brutal hours, their strength already reduced by some forty percent, Markova not even sure they had the will to continue for a second day.

  And that would certainly be necessary. General Morozov’s tanks were still fighting a war of attrition with Golubeva’s forces, each waiting for the other to admit defeat. Morozov’s favoured status was inevitably starting to fade and if the stalemate continued for too long, more of the military would begin to take sides, President Golubeva perhaps the sensible option.

  Washington, D.C. – 09:44 Local Time; 14:44 UTC

  Anderson was back again in the National Mall, unsure whether the lack of an FBI tail meant they realised he was getting nowhere fast or he had simply outlived his usefulness; having done all the leg work to give them Nash and Oscar, it seemed ungrateful just to let him loose, and not even a single word of thanks.

  The morning was cold and frosty, a good sprinkling of snow expected for the weekend. With camera in hand, Anderson was effectively just one of hundreds of tourists in the Mall, most looking to find the perfect picture to send to those back home, the soft autumn light bathing everything in a welcoming glow. Even though Anderson’s phone camera was a very capable alternative to
his trustworthy Pentax, familiarity and simple pride invariably made him favour the more expensive and showy option. Yet Anderson was also trying to earn his keep, trusting that the newspapers would be rather more appreciative than the FBI of his take on recent events; if necessary, he was happy to tone down his opinion as to the threat Congress faced, prepared to make only a vague reference to members potentially being denied access to the Capitol.

  Despite the losses at Mischief Reef, a snap poll showed that the public were generally supportive of the President’s response. China’s own attack against Vietnam remained fresh in people’s minds and it was obvious that China couldn’t be stopped without lives being put at risk. It was a view the Pentagon was keen to promote, the Press Secretary at pains to confirm that it was clearly a victory: two fortified islands defended by some four hundred and sixty elite marines defeated with the loss of sixty-seven men – every such sacrifice was regrettable but America had a duty to help her allies. Television pictures revealed the ferocity of some of the fighting and the scenes from Mischief Reef were particularly grim, with buildings flattened and the dock area a smoking ruin, two fire-blackened hulks lying alongside. Beijing had finally admitted that both reefs had been captured, their own estimate of Chinese dead and injured much lower than the U.S. reports. According to Beijing, the number of marines guarding the two reefs totalled just under three hundred and, despite being outnumbered some three-to-one by the Americans, had put up a brave fight to defend China’s ‘sovereign territory’.

  The various U.S. military experts tended to be more dispassionate in their views than the Pentagon’s Press Secretary, the pros and cons duly analysed, America’s strategy more often than not regarded as sound. Similarly, Deangelo’s nomination of Thorn might have set Congress alight but the broadsheets had been more balanced as to Thorn’s strengths of late, the needs of the moment definitely requiring a strong hand at the Pentagon. Opinions were far more divided as to the President’s selection of Jack Shepard as Vice-President and the political analysts were still arguing as to whether it was a brilliant move or a potential disaster.

  The peace march was due to start at eleven, the organisers anticipating that North Korea’s statement of intent would help double the numbers and people were already spilling out from the Lincoln Memorial’s east plaza and onto the frost-covered grass. The essentials of giant screen and public-address system had been in place since early morning and after the usual round of speeches, it would be a banner-waving march across the Potomac and then on to the Pentagon.

  With Mayor Henry due to speak at the other end of the Mall around noon, the police were again high-profile, ready to act to keep the two sides apart should it be necessary. Many of those who had camped out in the National Mall for over a fortnight were already packing up to leave, perhaps hoping to ensure they got home in good time to cook the celebration turkey. For the time being the tourists were in the majority and it looked as if Henry wouldn’t need much more than a soap box and a loud voice to make himself heard. Whether anything that happened in the National Mall or outside the walls of the Pentagon would be enough to persuade the hardliners that it was time to act was still to be seen. The forced suspension of Congress was a clear first step, tomorrow the last chance until December to guarantee most members would be in one spot.

  Or would they prefer Congress to be in recess? With the country’s Senators and Representatives safely away from the Capitol Building, there was obviously less chance of anyone influential getting hurt, it perhaps considered important not to start by accidently shooting a Senator or two. Deangelo or Thorn: Commander-in-Chief or unofficial Second-in-Command – which one would be prepared to risk everything and order the military into Washington?

  There was just one thing about it that worried Anderson, the evidence falling into place a little too readily. Every individual component had been spelled out in almost perfect detail: means, motive and opportunity – it was all there. Carter, Nash, Oscar and Anderson: knowingly or otherwise, each had played their part, the FBI no doubt happily following-on every step of the way.

  Anderson guessed the computer IP address obtained via the Harvard site would lead straight back to Terrill and maybe someone there had actually read up on Nash and Oscar – Anderson just wasn’t sure whether it was that relevant. In any case, it still seemed too basic a clue, especially when it was second-nature for Carter to hide his tracks. It could so easily be a deliberate false trail and Carter might simply have adjusted the IP address and date once he’d reached Panama.

  Even if the FBI – or indeed Jensen – thought the same, it would have been foolish not to have improved security in and around the Capitol Building. In which case, what ulterior motive did McDowell actually have in mind?

  Carter wouldn’t do anything without McDowell’s say-so, which could definitely make it all smoke and mirrors, the authorities’ attention drawn away from what McDowell really had planned. It would certainly be typical McDowell – but so would a subtle act of betrayal. Maybe he had good reason to be disloyal; vengeance for Yang or Ritter perhaps, or a belated sense of patriotism?

  Anderson stood staring up at the Capitol Building, his eureka moment not as helpful as he would have liked; basically, he was back to the drawing board, gut feeling and guesswork all he had left. McDowell, Deangelo, Thorn, Henry and Kovak – some or all of them were still part of it, of that he was sure.

  By eleven o’clock there were upwards of fifty thousand people near to the Lincoln Memorial, plus hundreds of police and media, Anderson watching from the grass bank as various speakers did their best to stir up the crowd. With placards in hand, they soon set off towards the Pentagon, the route lined by yet more police. Throughout it all the atmosphere was fairly good-natured and the more militant groups at the opposite end of the Mall kept their distance, no-one apparently wanting to provoke a confrontation. Anderson took the obligatory photos and asked pertinent questions, and many of those he spoke to were not so much anti-war as worried that the fight had more to do with oil supplies to Japan and South Korea than sticking-up for the Philippines.

  It was well after twelve by the time Gene Henry stepped up onto a hastily-built platform to address those gathered close to 3rd Street. Pro-war, pro-Thorn, anti-Congress – those standing in front of the Capitol Building had a variety of reasons as to why they were there, but if there was one common factor it was their sense of frustration with the members who sat in the building opposite. The number of protestors had swelled significantly since earlier but at around five thousand it was still less than some might have hoped for. What also came across clearly to Anderson was the crowd’s willingness to praise Deangelo: two weeks in and the President’s approval rating had risen to the dizzy heights of 83% – not bad for a virtual unknown.

  Although not as good a speaker as Dick Thorn, Henry’s words were emotive and seemingly from the heart, praising those who had camped out in the Mall for their understanding in bringing the protest to an end. He quickly chose to make specific reference to Dick Thorn, extolling what he had done for his country and could do as Secretary of Defence. The political stalemate in Congress and the apparent reluctance of many of its members to publicly support Deangelo was condemned, Henry moving on to express his own very personal approval of America’s actions in the South China Sea and the bravery of those continually risking their lives. He skilfully managed to avoid repeating what he’d said during his last diatribe but was still able to imply Congress was blind and incompetent, happy to leave Thorn out in the cold because of an unfair prejudice. The protest might formally be coming to an end but Mayor Henry seemed quite happy to twist the knife.

  The crowd applauded enthusiastically, Henry adding in the hope that the people of America would stand united with the Philippines and fully committed to the fight for freedom, the authoritarian and expansionist ideals of China’s Politburo needing to be resisted.

  Even Anderson applauded this time, a little ashamed that America and the Philippines were now
pretty much left to fight alone. Naval units from Australia had recently moved into position south of the Spratly Islands but that would change little; Japan, South Korea and Taiwan still seemed content to sit uncomfortably on the fence, the threat from North Korea a worrying escalation. But then the reasons for China and the U.S. to be close to war were far more complex than just an argument over a few pieces of rock, Thorn for one not quite the innocent Henry portrayed him.

  The crowd started to disperse, workers already moving amongst the remains of the tented city. Anderson headed back to the Holiday Inn deep in thought, needing to look with fresh eyes at everything that had happened, pre-conceptions put to one side. Inspiration was always an unpredictable beast and eventually he would come up with something clever; hopefully, sooner rather than later.
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