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       Hawx (2009), p.24

           Tom Clancy
 
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  "They have confidence in my ability to do a job," Tiffanie replied.

  "There you are." Arnold nodded as he took another sip of coffee. "That was, I assume, why I was sent on this little errand this morning. Like we were saying . . . we're both doing our jobs."

  "What do you hope to gain by this?"

  "Gain?" Arnold asked. "By coming up here? I was sent here to ask Fachearon to give it up and get with the program."

  "I meant, like what do you expect to gain by being involved in this 'program' as you call it?"

  "I keep telling you . . . it's my job . . . I'm paid to do what Firehawk needs me to do. It's nothing more than that. I'm a very straightforward person."

  Tiffanie Talleigh just shook her head.

  "I think we'd better go, sir," she said assertively. Her resuming the use of the formal term indicated to Arnold that their chat was over. "The president indicated that you could stay for lunch; are you staying for lunch, or not?"

  "I guess not," Arnold said. "Not that it hasn't been a fun conversation. Maybe I should check in with him again--y'know, give him one more chance to reconsider."

  "I don't think so," Tiffanie said tentatively. "The president's orders were explicit. You were to stay for lunch, then leave. Since you're not staying for lunch--"

  "What if he did want to reconsider the Firehawk proposal?" Arnold. "You'd be the one who made the call that stood in the way . . . made it not happen."

  "But he said--"

  "But he could change his mind."

  "I don't know," Tiffanie said, furrowing her brow. "What can it hurt?" Arnold insisted. "He'd just tell me to get the hell out of Camp David and never come back--"

  "I believe that he already said that."

  "What if?"

  "I'll check," she said.

  "Petty Officer Talleigh for the chief of staff's desk," she said, keying her two-way radio. "I'm with the subject . . . and he has a question . . . over."

  "This is the chief of staff's office, Petty Officer," crackled the reply. "What is the question?"

  "He wants to know whether the president will reconsider his proposal, over."

  "What the . . . he what?"

  "He wants to know whether the president will reconsider his proposal."

  There was a long, crackling pause before the man who worked for Fachearon's chief of staff responded.

  "Petty Officer Talleigh?"

  "Roger."

  "They tell me to tell you to tell him that the president is absolutely not interested in reconsidering, but he has something to tell the Firehawk man . . . so bring him back up to Laurel."

  "Aye-aye, sir. Petty Officer Talleigh, out."

  "The president will speak with you," she said. "But don't hold your breath about talking him into anything." "Yeah . . . I heard." Arnold nodded.

  They exchanged no words on the walk back to Laurel Lodge. They had exhausted their topics of conversation. There was nothing more to be said. The mood was as dark and gloomy as the weather.

  For Albert Bacon Fachearon, though, there was one more thing.

  "Mr. Arnold," he said, meeting Raymond Harris's emissary on the doorstep. "Tell Raymond Harris . . . tell him emphatically . . . that I will not relinquish the presidency unless or until there is a trial. Under the Constitution, an impeached president can't be removed until convicted in a Senate trial . . . a fact obviously lost on Raymond Harris."

  Fachearon was angry. Fachearon was taking it personally. Fachearon could feel his systolic blood pressure surging toward two hundred.

  "Suit yourself," Aron Arnold said calmly, not taking it personally. "I'm here because I'm ordered . . . and apparently the senators and congressmen gave my boss the authority to issue that order."

  "It will suit me to do as I have said I will do," Fachearon replied, unnerved that Aron Arnold betrayed no emotion, while he could feel the pressure of the blood throbbing in his neck.

  "I will convey this information to the appropriate parties." Arnold nodded calmly.

  Overhead, they heard the distant thunder of jet engines, and all eyes turned skyward. The clouds were low, and there was nothing to be seen. The sound soon died way.

  AS ARON ARNOLD BADE TIFFANIE TALLEIGH GOOD-BYE, he could sense her breathing a sigh of relief.

  His Lexus remained as he had left it, the lone vehicle in the visitor parking lot outside the Camp David main gate. As he opened the door, he took out his cell phone. He decided that it would be a good idea to check in.

  He dialed, pressed the send button, and put the phone to his ear.

  Nothing.

  What?

  How could he have a dead battery?

  He looked at the phone. Everything about it looked normal.

  He turned it over and slid out the battery. Maybe some dirt had gotten on the contacts.

  Then he saw it.

  Someone had inserted a GK356a4 high-power, miniaturized homing transmitter.

  When could this have happened?

  The only time that he had taken his phone out of his pocket since he set foot at Camp David was when it went through the metal detector when he had arrived. None of the guards had touched it.

  When was the last time that it had been out of his sight?

  Then he remembered.

  It had been in his jacket pocket that morning at the White House. In turn, he had left his jacket on the back of a chair in a conference room while he went to the bathroom.

  Who?

  Damn. Shit. Fuck.

  A half mile down the mountain road, Aron Arnold stopped the Lexus, got out, and tossed the cell phone as far as he could into the thick brush.

  The Skies over Northern Maryland

  "FALCON THREE, DO YOU HAVE A SHOT?" JENNA asked.

  "Gotta get a lock-on," Troy said, gritting his teeth.

  By this time, Raymond Harris knew he was up against someone good. He had tried to run, single-mindedly trying to get back on his trajectory to the target.

  However, to do this was to put his vulnerable hindquarters into the eyes of the F-16's Sidewinders. Each time, he heard the ping of a lock-on. Each time, he was able to maneuver out of the way, but with each maneuver, he was off course for his target.

  The Raven and the F-16 twisted and turned across the sky as Troy tried to achieve lock-on and as Harris tried both to prevent this and to push the Raven itself into a shooting position.

  They had gotten into the dogfight maneuver that dogfighters call a scissors, a series of repeated turn reversals in which the aircraft being chased tries both to stay out of the line of fire and twist itself in such a way as to cause the pursuer to overshoot. The idea is that the hunted suddenly becomes the hunter.

  Harris groaned and cursed.

  The HAWX Program had designed the Raven to be as maneuverable as it was fast, but with seven hundred pounds of nuclear bomb in its central weapons bay, the Raven was not as agile as it might have been otherwise.

  Troy thumbed off a burst of twenty-millimeter rounds as the Raven crossed his pipper.

  They went wild, but at least Harris knew he was there.

  Aha!

  For a split second, Harris stopped maneuvering.

  It is a natural impulse when you are taking fire to stop moving, and Harris had succumbed.

  It is a natural impulse, when you see your quarry pause, to take a shot, and Troy succumbed.

  The Sidewinder got its lock-on and streaked forward.

  The distance was short--probably less than half a mile.

  It is a natural impulse when you catch yourself pausing in a pursuit to move quickly to compensate for a moment of inaction, and Harris moved quickly.

  He banked hard to the left.

  Troy watched the Sidewinder arc left.

  Harris scissored to the right.

  The Sidewinder was going too fast to turn so quickly, and it missed him by barely a few feet.

  It is a natural impulse when you are chasing your prey to push yourself to catch up. So it was with Troy.
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  However, he moved too fast, and he slid past the Raven.

  He had overshot his prey.

  The hunted was suddenly the hunter.

  The pinging came, and Troy reacted.

  He was in a left turn already, so he rolled hard left.

  To evade a heat-seeking missile, you have to obscure the heat source. This was far more difficult for the F-16 than for the Raven. The F-16 does not have the advantage, like the Raven, of the heat signature of its exhaust duct being shielded. Therefore, evasive action must be very evasive.

  Troy banked into a roll, rolled into a dive, and dove into a diving turn--all in an effort to outmaneuver the missile from which he could not hide.

  JENNA HAD KEPT PACE AS SHE WATCHED TROY CHASING the Raven across the sky in a fast-paced pursuit, flying above and behind the two aircraft as they raced through Maryland airspace.

  They were above the clouds, with no view of the ground, so Jenna had no bearings on how close or how far they were in relation to Camp David. They may have failed in their efforts to keep Harris too low to fly his strike mission--they were now above fifteen thousand feet--but at least they were keeping him from his primary mission.

  Jenna watched the two aircraft scissoring across the sky, silently urging Troy to take a shot and knowing that he was the type to take it the moment he could.

  However, suddenly, it was the F-16 that was in the lead.

  The hunter was the hunted.

  As she watched Harris launch an AMRAAM, and as she saw Troy roll out and dive, Jenna seized the initiative and swung in behind Harris.

  She could sense by the way that he rolled his wedge-shaped aircraft that Harris heard the pinging of her lock-on.

  She fired.

  Another hunter had become the hunted.

  THREE WARPLANES.

  Two missiles.

  Crowded skies.

  Dangerous skies.

  Harris's AIM-120 Slammer was gaining on a desperate Troy Loensch, while the electronic brain of Jenna's AIM-9 Sidewinder sought to maintain its lock-on to Raymond Harris and the Raven.

  Troy had one chance, and that was to use the Slammer's speed against it. He would allow it to follow him into a turn, then turn abruptly in the opposite direction, knowing--or at least hoping--that its speed would restrict it from so tight a turn.

  Troy rolled into a hard left, and prepared to turn right.

  That was when he saw it.

  Just a quarter of a mile away, and on the same heading as Troy, was a US Airways Airbus A321-200, on approach to Baltimore-Washington Airport with about 170 passengers aboard.

  Crowded skies.

  Dangerous skies.

  As Troy turned, the AMRAAM lost its lock-on for a split second--a desired effect.

  As it is programmed to do, the AMRAAM sought to reacquire the broken lock-on.

  It did.

  However, the lock-on was not now to the F-16's F110 turbofan, but to the larger, hotter CFM56-5 turbofan engine hanging beneath the starboard wing of the US Airways jetliner--very much not an effect that Troy had desired.

  JENNA WATCHED HER OWN SIDEWINDER CHASE THE Raven, knowing that she had denied Raymond Harris the luxury of watching his AMRAAM chase Troy's F-16.

  She did not notice the Airbus A321-200 until she glanced away from Harris for a second to watch the AMRAAM's contrail coiling across the sky toward Troy.

  She saw Troy's F-16 slip out of the trajectory of the AMRAAM and the trajectories of the two separate. It was not until that moment that she saw the red and blue tail of the jetliner.

  The crew on the flight deck may have seen the AMRAAM, although it was approaching from behind. They certainly had seen it on their radarscopes, and they were probably calling a mayday to the Baltimore tower.

  They banked the aircraft slightly but were unable to muster serious evasive action.

  Jenna saw the white contrail streak into the engine and watched helplessly as the right wing dissolved in a dirty orange fireball.

  The force of the blast tossed the one-winged jetliner into a roll, and soon it was tumbling uncontrollably across the sky. Pity the passengers who had not been knocked unconscious by their being thrown into a five-G spin.

  The Skies over Northern Maryland

  RAYMOND HARRIS WAS STARTLED, EVEN SADDENED, by the sight of the jetliner--slammed by his own Slammer--cartwheeling across the sky. For the man who was prepared to drop a nuclear weapon on the president of the United States, it was a rather paradoxical reaction.

  Was it that the sight of 170 innocent people dying a frightening death was more real than the abstract notion of a thermonuclear blast?

  It didn't take long for him to snap out of it and to place his mind back in the moment.

  How many missiles had been fired?

  He had dodged three. That left just one missile left between the two F-16s.

  He had fired two. As the Raven carried no gun, he was depleted of defensive armament--but the F-16s need not know that.

  Where were they now?

  He saw one--and then the other F-16.

  The nearest one, flying about two thousand feet beneath him, had bare wingtips. It was unarmed.

  JENNA HAD LITTLE TIME TO PROCESS THE SIGHT OF the aluminum coffin with its 170 screaming souls before it disappeared into a cloud.

  Meanwhile, her own Sidewinder had missed hitting anything. The unstoppable Raven was still in the air. Damn those people at HAWX who had invented this machine.

  She had no way of knowing that the pinging she heard, that of the Raven locking on to her F-16, was a lock-on with missiles that did not exist.

  "Falcon Two, this is Falcon Three. I got your back." Maybe Falcon Three could distract Harris long enough for Jenna to escape.

  As Jenna dove toward the clouds, preparing to evade the imaginary AMRAAM, Troy was diving from above to try to save her.

  Troy expected to see the contrail of an AMRAAM at any moment as he accelerated toward the Raven.

  Suddenly, he saw nothing. First Jenna, then Harris, fell into the boiling cumulus.

  On his radarscope, they were just tumbling green specks, like a pair of fireflies on methedrine.

  HARRIS PUSHED HIS CHARADE AS HE PUSHED THE fleeing F-16--down, down, down.

  One moment, they were falling through the clouds, the next they were beneath them. At last, having reached nine thousand feet, he broke off his pursuit and checked his GPS coordinates. Somewhere out there, and he could now see exactly where, was Camp David.

  Aron Arnold should have arrived by now. He had gone to Camp David, briefed with orders to stall. Harris had instructed him to linger as long as necessary to give Albert Bacon Fachearon two--not just one--opportunities to consider Harris's demand for capitulation. Arnold would also have arrived bearing a GK356a4 high-power, miniaturized homing transmitter--although the presence of this gadget had not been part of his briefing.

  Raymond Harris had no idea where Fachearon was within the Camp David complex, but he did not care. The blast radius of the B61's active ingredients was considerable--but best of all, the weapon would be directed to its target by the GK356a4 transmitter that was ideally standing within a few feet or a few yards of Albert Bacon Fachearon.

  "FALCON THREE, HE'S BROKEN OFF HIS ATTACK ON me," Jenna said. "He's broken off and is heading toward the target."

  "Got him," Troy promised hopefully, willing it to be true.

  He lit his afterburner and felt the F-16 lurch as it went supersonic.

  At nine thousand feet, the two planes raced toward the crest of the Catoctin Mountains. Had they crossed the path of any other jetliner in the crowded northern Maryland skies, it would have been catastrophic--but quick.

  Troy could not afford to think about such a thing. Closing to within missile range was the only thing on his mind--it had to be.

  Troy knew that the Raven was fast--probably capable of something north of Mach 3--but he knew that Harris couldn't deliver a payload from an internal weapons bay at that speed. He w
ould probably have to slow to below Mach 1. Troy still had one Sidewinder and one chance to catch the Raven before Harris got to Camp David.

  HARRIS WAS RUNNING HARD AND FAST. HE HAD PICKED up the GK356a4 arid was homing in on it.

  It was a matter of minutes.

  He glanced at his radarscope as he throttled back for his bomb run.

  Damn. There was an F-16 still on his tail. It was many miles back, but still coming. It had to be the one that still had a live Sidewinder. Harris made a fast, educated guess that whoever the pilot was, he would wait to fire until he was at a no-miss distance.

  Harris figured that he had time to reach his release point.

  Once the B61 was away, he could ratchet up the Raven's throttle and outrun any F-16. He could even wring enough speed out of the Raven to outdistance the Mach 2.5 Sidewinder.

  But that was then; Harris was still in a now that meant covering fifty miles of Maryland countryside at subsonic speeds with his weapons bay door open.

  As he urged the Raven forward, he heard the pinging of a lock-on.

  IN HIS F-16, TROY SAW THE RAVEN SLOW AND KNEW that this was it--the bomb run.

  Could he catch Harris and take a no-miss shot? Never mind. Lock on now!

  The Sidewinder had an effective range of around ten miles. He was almost there. He could ride the lock-on all the way.

  Raymond Harris, meanwhile, still had an advantage. His maneuverability options increased proportionally to his slower speed. Because he had only one vulnerable spot--straight back--any evasive action, no matter how slight, was potentially effective. He could remain on course, weaving slightly, and still interrupt the F-16's lock-on.

  Troy watched his lock-on stop and start, flicker and hiccup, like a bad connection on his iPod jack.

  There was nothing he could do but put the pedal to the metal and get closer to the Raven.

  Seven miles separated the two aircraft.

  Inside the Raven, Harris dodged between trying to interrupt and evade the pinging and maintaining his own lock-on to the GK356a4 at Camp David.

  Six miles.

  Rocking and rolling, Harris raced onward as the F-16 gained on him. He counted the seconds before he could arm the B61 for his strike against Albert Bacon Fachearon--and all that for which he stood.

 
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