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       Hawx (2009), p.22

           Tom Clancy
 
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  Outside the window, the blackness of the night had been superseded by the faint, cold, metallic gray light of dawn.

  Troy could still detect traces of Jenna's perfume amid the smell of sweat and the savory aromas of their bodily fluids. It had been a wild and passionate night, and Jenna craved that it continue.

  It continued. Rather, it resumed after a halfdozen hours of deep and invigorating sleep. It resumed, and it continued as the first rays of daylight pushed the night aside.

  "I don't want it to end." Jenna gasped, out of breath, as she rolled off Troy and flopped onto the bed.

  But at last, it ended. The desire was willing, but the bodies were exhausted.

  For a time, they just lay there, Jenna squeezing Trov's hand.

  Finally, she staggered to her feet, visited the bathroom, slipped on her robe, and went into the kitchen.

  Troy rolled off the bed as he heard the rattling sounds of Jenna beginning to fuss with the coffeemaker.

  "That was good." He smiled as he came into the kitchen.

  "That was very good," she said, looking longingly at his tired, naked body. "It was everything that I've been yearning for all these months. Y'all may not always be a nice man, Loensch, but you're good."

  Troy thought of saying, "Nice guys finish last," but he didn't want to bring up the finish of Hal Coughlin's life and career. Hal had been a nice guy.

  As they sipped their coffee, Jenna idly reached for the television remote and clicked it on.

  Neither of them was prepared for what they saw.

  A line of armored personnel carriers bearing the logo of Layton Kynelty's Cernavoda Partners were lined up along Constitution Avenue adjacent to the Capitol building. The text at the bottom of the screen read Breaking News.

  Jenna looked at Troy. They were both speechless.

  The picture changed to a view of the White House as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. The fact that this block, the famous 1600 block, is closed to traffic had not deterred two M1A4 tanks with the Cernavoda logo on their turrets. Near the north portico of the White House, a group of men in black combat gear were speaking with a uniformed Secret Service man in shirtsleeves.

  The picture changed again, this time to an earnest young newscaster doing a field report from Lafayette Square across the street.

  "We repeat," she said nen ously. "Raymond Harris of Firehawk and Layton Kynelty of Cernavoda Partners are at the White House and are said to be conferring with the vice president at this moment. We have no confirmation of the location of the president, but there are unsubstantiated rumors that he is at Camp David .. . back to you at our Washington studio."

  "It's The Transition," Troy said somberly. It was as he had read about it in that blue folder back at Cactus Flat.

  The picture changed to a head shot of a familiar cable channel newscaster. The absence of a necktie made him look a trifle unkempt, but all that more earnest.

  "For those of you just joining us, we have breaking news here in the nation's capital," he said anxiously. "Washington has awakened to unfolding events of momentous consequence. Just before dawn this morning, senators received an urgent personal call from the vice president, who convened an emergency session of the Senate at seven-ten this morning. The senators arrived to find that all of Capitol Hill had been secured by armored units of Cernavoda Partners."

  The picture in the background changed to one of the Cernavoda vehicles surrounding the Capitol. The man took a drink of water and continued.

  "The first item of business on the agenda at this emergency session was the reconsideration of the Executive Branch Management Bill, which the Senate had defeated yesterday. When the session was called to order, the eighty-eight senators who were present voted unanimously to pass the bill."

  "Those SOBs!" Jenna spat out angrily. "They had a gun to their heads . . ."

  "The Transition," Troy repeated.

  "We have received word that in the past few minutes, the House of Representatives has been called into session to pass articles of impeachment against President Fachearon," the talking head continued. "The second item of business in the Senate was to pass a bill ordering him removed from office immediately after the impeachment . . . pending the trial in the Senate. The Senate took the further, unprecedented step of authorizing duly constituted authorities to use deadly force against the pres . . . urn . . . I suppose, soon-to-be former president."

  "I told you so," Troy said.

  "I know you did," Jenna replied. "I guess I never imagined that it would come to this. . . ."

  "We just have word in to our studio that President Fachearon will be making a statement from Camp David . . . momentarily . . . Please stand by while we try to bring this to you."

  There was some fluttering of video images and Fachearon appeared on the screen. He look tired but composed. He wore a jacket and tie, presenting the same image as he had for other televised speeches during his troubled term.

  "My fellow Americans, I come to you at a perilous moment in our nation's history," Fachearon began. "What has been happening in the nation's capital this morning is nothing short of a coup d'etat, an attempt by malevolent parties to overthrow the legally constituted government of the United States. Yesterday, the Senate voted to deny attempts by the PMCs Cernavoda and Firehawk to take control of the executive branch through legislation. Today, under threat from tanks and armed thugs, the Senate was compelled to reverse a decision that had been freely arrived at. No decision of this kind, reached under such duress, should be allowed to stand. I am speaking to you today to assure you that I will resist these actions with all of the power that I still have at my disposal. I call on all Americans to join me in resisting and defeating this grave threat against our liberty. May God bless the United States of America."

  The screen went fuzzy momentarily and the cable newscaster was back.

  "That was the president . . . um . . . Mr. Fachearon, speaking from Camp David. . . . We understand that Raymond Harris will be speaking from the White House."

  The next face they saw on the screen was the familiar visage of Raymond Harris. He exuded firm self-assurance, but he looked tired. Maybe it was just the way the wide-screen television stretched things, but it looked as though he had gained weight.

  "My fellow Americans," Harris said confidently. "Our nation has reached a crossroads in its history. Of that, there can be no doubt. It is a time for action, it is a time for strength. Until about seven o'clock Eastern Time this morning, our country was an oligarchy. Our nation was in the hands of a man whose approval rating had languished below six percent for more than a year. More than ninety percent of the American people were being ruled by an elite cadre of six percent. This morning, the Senate, like the House of Representatives yesterday, bravely acted to pull the plug on the oligarchy."

  Harris smiled a "getting to the good part" smile and continued.

  "Congress, your Congress, your representatives, have handed Mr. Kynelty and myself a tremendous responsibility. It is a responsibility that we shoulder as a sacred trust. We will not let you down. With that responsibility comes many challenges. The first and foremost challenge that we face is to remove the outlaw who claims authority that he does not have, who exercises power despite the will of Congress. We have word that Mr. Fachearon and his supporters have barricaded themselves at the Camp David compound and intend to resist all attempts to dislodge them. This is, my fellow Americans, not an insignificant nuisance, but a major threat to the security of the United States . . . Fachearon has his finger on the trigger of America's nuclear arsenal."

  "This is gonna be bad," Jenna said, glancing at Troy. "This could be real bad." Troy nodded.

  "Fear not, my fellow Americans;" Harris continued. "We shall not shrink from our newly bestowed mantle of responsibility. I shall not shrink from this newly bestowed mantle of responsibility. I intend to personally ensure that Mr. Fachearon and his six percent will not stand in the way of our nation's future."

  With that, the sc
reen faded and chattering talking heads appeared.

  "What did he mean by that?" Troy asked.

  In the other room, Jenna's cell phone was chirping. "This is Jenna," she said. "Hi, Lucy . . . yeah ... I saw it. . . . Yeah . . . lot to digest for sure . . . Harris is like that. . . . For sure . . . he'd be an oligarch himself if he had half a chance. . . . Yeah . . . I guess he does have half a chance now. . . . Well, he said he was going to do it personally. . . . No, Lucy . . . I won't tell. . . . Y'all are kidding me . . . no shit? . . . You can't be serious. . . . Where? . . . When? . . . Can you stop him? . . . Can y'all slow him down? . . . I'll think of something. . . . I dunno, Lucy . . . I'll think of something. Just slow him down."

  Jenna tossed the cell phone on the counter and gave Troy a bewildered glance.

  "What the hell was that about?" Troy asked, having heard only Jenna's side of the conversation.

  "Harris," Jenna said, beginning to pace. "That was Lucy . . . she's in special projects. She was with Harris this morning as this whole thing was going down."

  "Wild. What's going on?"

  "Harris . . . It's Harris. The son of a bitch has got a tactical nuke loaded on the Raven aircraft . . . he's gonna fucking nuke Fachearon."

  Chapter 49

  Camp David, Frederick County, Maryland

  "THANK YOU FOR COMING," ALBERT BACON FAChearon said sarcastically. "And yes, it is rather awkward to receive an emissary from Firehawk on a day such as this. I had presumed that you were bringing an apology and a memorandum of capitulation from Layton Kynelty or Raymond Harris, but apparently not. You can tell them that nothing less than these will be acceptable. You may stay for lunch if you wish, but after that, please make your way back to Washington and convey my sincere dissatisfaction to those 'gentlemen.' "

  With that, Fachearon turned and strode away, leaving his visitor standing in the foyer of Laurel Lodge.

  Aron Arnold might have been impressed by the gold-leaved eagles, the flags, and the trappings of American presidential pomp and power. His father, who had grown up in a United States that valued patriotism, a nation where loyalty to flag and to country matter, would have been. Aron Arnold was not. As he was growing into a man in the featureless suburbs around Orlando, it was a world in which flag-waving was an irrelevant anachronism.

  He had joined the U. S. Air Force because he wanted to fly. He had grown up playing video games, and he wanted to do it for real. He had been good at the game console and proved himself good in real cockpits as well. His total and all-consuming attention to being the best at doing what he did, combined with his detached and easygoing temperament, made him an ideal candidate when Svartvand BV was recruiting pilots--and killers. Aron Arnold was the ideal PMC man, with loyalty only to his employer of the moment, not to the flag beneath which he had been born.

  When Svartvand was acquired by Firehawk, Arnold had no nostalgia for Svartvand, just as he had no particular loyalty to flag or country. For Arnold, it was never personal. When he had met Troy Loensch on the night that Svartvand had merged with Firehawk, he had detected a trace of uneasiness. Sure, they had been fighting to the death early that same day, and that was a serious irony--but it wasn't personal. At least it had not been personal for Aron.

  He had felt that same uneasiness from Troy Loensch when they met again at Cactus Flat. Arnold was impressed by how Loensch had allowed his professionalism as a pilot trump any bad feelings he had for a man who had tried to kill him in air combat, but on the ground, they had stayed apart. There had been no rounds of boozing at the officers' club that ended with slaps on the back and vows of "no hard feelings."

  When Loensch had been killed in the Shakuru crash, there had been wailing and gnashing of teeth at Cactus Flat. A lot of people had been saddened by his death, as people are often saddened by deaths of co-workers. Dr. Elisa Meyers had expressed much anguish for the loss of her Shakuru but had shed a tear for the man as well. Aron Arnold shed no tears. He had no feelings of empathy. It was a job, and Loensch had simply not come back.

  Like Dr. Meyers, Arnold was sad to see the Shakuru Program come to an abrupt end, but the broader HAWX Program remained. Within HAWX there would be many possibilities. Raymond Harris. had even intimated that there would be a place for him in the cockpit of the Raven--and that prospect came with great excitement for Aron Arnold.

  When Harris was named CEO of Firehawk, Arnold was brought back to the corporate headquarters in Herndon with the promise of "big things" within the HAWX Program.

  Arnold had no distinct loyalty to Harris, nor to Fire-hawk, but rather to his job. Like the knights errant of the Middle Ages, or mercenaries throughout time, his master was the task at hand.

  Today's task, amid the pastoral beauty of the Catoctin Mountains, had been to persuade Fachearon to submit to Firehawk authority as demanded by Congress.

  Today, Arnold had failed, just as he had failed on that day over the Peten jungle to bring down Troy's F-16. It was Arnold's belief that in the long run, Troy Loensch had gone down to a watery grave in the vast Pacific. It was Arnold's belief that in due time, Fachearon would go down, down to obscurity as a footnote to a turning point in American history.

  Chapter 50

  Reagan National Airport, Arlington, Virginia

  "THIS IS A FIREHAWK-AUTHORIZED OPERATION," JENNA said sternly--and she could be very stern when the moment demanded sternness--as she flashed the Firehawk ID card with its high level of security authorization.

  "I don't know," stammered the guard at Reagan National's government hangar. "I wasn't given any advance not i f--"

  From the airport, they could look across the Potomac and see the dome of the Capitol building. "In case you aren't aware, this city is in crisis mode this morning," Jenna said angrily. "Not everyone is getting advance notification of everything. In fact, damned few people are."

  "I'm still not--"

  "Do you want me to put you on Raymond Harris's personal shit list?" Jenna asked.

  "No--"

  "Do you know what will happen to you for impeding a Firehawk operation at this time?"

  "Well--"

  "Trust me, you have better things to do with your life than to be sitting around in a cell waiting to be executed for treason," Jenna asserted.

  "Okay," the guard said, glancing again at Jenna's ID. "Thank you," she said impatiently.

  "What about him?" the guard said, nodding at Troy.

  "He's with me," Jenna said, pushing the guard aside.

  "Nothing works on a day like this like a Firehawk Ill," Troy quipped as they entered the hangar.

  "Wish you had brought your Firehawk Ill," Jenna said.

  "I left it in the jungle." He shrugged.

  Parked before them were a pair of Virginia Air National Guard F-16s. When the PMCs had taken over for the armed forces, the assets of the National Guard, which were under state control, were not included.

  Shortly after she had hung up from Lucy's phone call, Jenna had a brainstorm.

  Troy's first reaction was one of "We gotta stop that bastard!"

  Neither he nor Jenna had any idea how.

  According to Lucy, Raymond Harris was already headed for the car that would take him Andrews Air Force Base. She had promised that she'd try to delay Harris, but they all knew he could not be stopped.

  That was when Jenna had her brainstorm. She remembered that the Air Guard kept F-16s on strip alert at Reagan National. After September 2001, every state on the eastern seaboard kept at least a few interceptors primed, even though more than a decade had passed without their having been called into action against a serious threat.

  Amazingly, Troy and Jenna caught a taxi on nearby M Street--one of the cabs that were avoiding the disarray downtown. The driver crossed the Potomac on the Key Bridge, bypassing all the congestion around the White House, and made it to the airport from Georgetown in fifteen minutes.

  They knew that it would take Harris at least a half hour to get to Andrews Air Force Base, where the Raven was parke
d. They also knew that he'd be in no rush. He was out to attack a fixed target at Camp David--one that was not going anywhere.

  Troy and Jenna found flight gear and helmets in the hangar and suited up. Being on strip alert, both aircraft were fueled and ready to go, so the two concentrated on making sure that the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles were live and armed, and that the M61 cannons each had a magazine full of ammo.

  "First time I've been in an F-16 since Sudan," Jenna said longingly as she started up the stairs.

  "Just like riding a bicycle," Troy said. "It all comes right back to you. Let's take it low level to Andrews and try to get him on the ground."

  "Roger that," Jenna agreed. "From what I've heard about the Raven, I sure would rather take it out on the ground than have to fight it in the air."

  The Air Guard personnel dutifully pushed open the doors as they powered up their General Electric F110 turbofans, and Troy gave Jenna a thumbs-up to taxi out ahead of him.

  "Ladies first," he said over the radio.

  Jenna just replied with her middle finger and released her brake.

  Seeing the two Air Guard fighters leave their hangar, the air traffic controllers in the Reagan National tower dutifully followed procedure, ordering a ramp hold on all commercial takeoffs and instructing all incoming flights to remain in the pattern. The Air Guard always went to the head of the line.

  With both runways available, Troy and Jenna took off simultaneously. They kept their altitude to a thousand feet, low enough not to stand out on radar, but high enough to avoid transmission lines and power poles in the congested area around Washington.

  They deliberately avoided overflying the city itself, not wanting to have the hundreds of news crews down there speculating about what these two F-16s were doing and alerting whatever air assets Firehawk might have flying this morning.

  The flight time to Andrews from Reagan National is measured in minutes, so Troy and Jenna were confident that they could catch Harris.

  Their confidence was misplaced.

 
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