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       Hawx (2009), p.25

           Tom Clancy
 
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Five miles.

  When? Troy sweated the decision to shoot.

  Four miles.

  Okay, this is it.

  "Missiles hot," he announced.

  Jenna was barely two miles away, also on afterburner and following Troy into battle.

  "Roger, Falcon Three, you are a go with missiles hot."

  Three miles.

  Okay, dammit, this is it.

  "Fox Two!" Troy shouted.

  Chapter 57

  The Skies over Northern Maryland

  IN THE COCKPIT OF THE RAVEN, RAYMOND HARRIS battled to evade the F-16 lock-on, while also fighting to keep his own weapon homed in on its target.

  Each time the pinging stopped, it bounced back a moment later.

  When the pinging stopped and stayed stopped, he couldn't believe his luck.

  Was there something wrong with the system?

  He glanced at his mirror. There was no coiling contrail back there. The F-16's Sidewinder was a dud. Harris couldn't believe his luck.

  There was no contrail, but there was the F-16. The bastard must be coming at nearly Mach 2. Suddenly, Harris felt the turbulence of the aircraft roaring past him. The blast of air nearly caused him to lose control.

  The bastard was on top of him, then a short distance away.

  He was matching his speed to the Raven.

  What was the bastard trying to do?

  Harris considered evasive action, but he was seconds from the release point.

  The F-16 was so close that he could read the specs stenciled on the tail.

  The F-16 was so close that he imagined feeling the heat of its engine.

  The F-16 was so close that he felt its wing touch the forward fuselage of the Raven.

  This was the last thing that Raymond Harris ever felt, for in the next infinitesimal slice of time, the two aircraft became one, an enormous ball of wreckage.

  Imagine two dozen tons . Of scrap metal hurtling through the air at several hundred miles per hour, a mile and a half above a verdant, wooded hillside.

  Fragments, many fragments, of scrap metal spun off the main ball of wreckage and began plunging earthward.

  Within that ball of wreckage, the remnants of what had been a human being were pulverized and shredded by the slicing and dicing of a thousand knifelike shards.

  High above, Troy watched the burning wreckage

  tumble, lose momentum, and fall. He hung from the straps of his parachute, having punched out of that mass of scrap metal at the moment that it had ceased to be two separate airplanes. When his second Sidewinder--his second hand-me-down Virginia Air National Guard Sidewinder--had failed, Troy decided to ram the Raven and hope for the best.

  Watching it fall, from his silent perch in the sky, the wreckage seemed so unreal, so far away in both time and space. Yet Troy knew that within it were the remnants of a nuclear weapon whose fireball would very much encompass him in both time and space--if it had been armed.

  Had Harris armed the weapon?

  He knew that all of this was happening close to Camp David, but he didn't know exactly how near.

  Had Harris armed the weapon?

  JENNA HAD WATCHED THE COLLISION AND HAD SEEN the fireball plummet downward.

  She had heard Troy call his "Fox Two" and had seen nothing happen. She knew what he had decided to do, and she had breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the single parachute.

  She shared Troy's thoughts about the potential nuclear incineration and orbited the scene cautiously.

  Like Troy, she knew that if the weapon had been armed, any second could be the end.

  Conversely, they both knew that an unarmed weapon was virtually harmless. Like the black boxes on airliners, they were designed to withstand enormous concussions without breaking apart. There had been a whole series of events during the Cold War, known as Broken Arrow incidents, in which aircraft carrying nukes had crashed and the unarmed weapons had not exploded. There is always the danger of a radiation leak, but only remotely of an explosion.

  With each passing moment, both Troy and Jenna breathed easier.

  As she flew close and saw the dangling figure wave to her, Jenna felt enormous relief.

  However, her relief was short-lived.

  What next?

  Had this been the pivotal closing scene in a movie, she would return to her base, welcomed by the open arms of her compatriots.

  This was not a movie. Jenna had no base, and her only comrade was floating to a landing in the Catoctin Mountains.

  What could she do?

  Where would she land the surviving one of a pair of stolen F-16s? How could she land in a country now ruled by Firehawk after she and her comrade had just killed Raymond Harris?

  LANDING AMID THE PINES IN THE DOGWOOD BRUSH was challenging, but Troy managed to avoid getting his parachute snarled in a tree. He was scratched and bleeding, but they were superficial wounds. All his moving parts moved as they were supposed to move. His bad leg ached, but he recalled the old adage stating that any landing you walk away from is a good landing.

  He was also reminded of that day so long ago when he and Jenna had both come down in the inhospitable Denakil Desert. The impulse then, as now--as on that mountain back in the Colville National Forest with Hal Coughlin--was to evade.

  He sat on the hillside beneath darkening clouds, listening to an impulse.

  Today had been a progression of impulsive acts, unencumbered by contemplation. It began in the dark of night with the impulsive need to have Jenna's body and to succumb to her impulsive need for his. That morning--it seemed so long ago now--they had awakened to their mutual impulse to stop Raymond Harris, to fight Raymond Harris, and to kill Raymond Harris.

  Troy had landed in these woods, reacting on an impulse born on those Colville woods.

  Evade.

  Evading capture was an impulse, but with it also came a moment for contemplation.

  Who was he evading? What was he evading?

  First there was the impending rainstorm that felt as though it could start any moment.

  Next, however, Troy contemplated who he was trying to evade.

  The man who had tried to kill him, and who had tried to kill Albert Bacon Fachearon, was no more, but this death did not change the fact that Firehawk and Cernavoda still ruled the United States. What had happened here had bought Fachearon some time. It had probably bought him his life, but it had not bought him back his job.

  The death of Raymond Harris had not stopped The Transition.

  Removing Harris had done no lasting harm to the cabal of Firehawk and Cernavoda, and certainly not to Layton Kynelty, who would now emerge stronger than ever from Harris's shadow. If anything, Troy had saved Firehawk and Cernavoda the embarrassment of having to justify a nuclear strike within the United States.

  As the first cold drops of rain began pattering on the dogwood leaves, Troy headed for the cover of some trees. The forest was thicker over there, and he could probably stay relatively dry as he made his way off this mountain.

  He had yet to decide where exactly he was headed. The only thing on his mind at this moment was selfpreservation--the impulse to get as far from the crash site as possible.

  Chapter 58

  Morgan County, West Virginia

  STATE TROOPER RALPH OVERGEIST HAD BEEN FOLlowing the news all day on his radio as he cruised up State Route 29. He kept the news channel on low--he didn't want it to interfere with his hearing calls on his two-way radio--but he did keep it on.

  How could he not?

  Washington, D. C., was in a heck of a pickle this morning. There were tanks on the streets and an arrest warrant out for the president. Ralph didn't care too much for Albert Bacon Fachearon. He had not voted for the man, but it sure seemed that an arrest warrant was a bit over the top.

  He hadn't thought too much about the PMCs taking over the federal government. It did not directly affect him. He figured it would be a long, long time before anybody decided to let them take over the West Virginia Hi
ghway Patrol.

  Hampshire County and Morgan County, which were Ralph's beat, had been real quiet, quieter than normal, today. Of course, it was a Saturday, and he figured most folks were home watching the fireworks in Washington on television.

  Ralph Overgeist was a few miles north of Slanesville when he rounded a bend and saw a woman walking alongside the road. She had long, unkempt blond hair and ill-fitting clothes. The boots she was wearing looked a few sizes too big. Of course, mountain people didn't dress all fancy like folks in the cities, like over in Martinsburg.

  It seemed a bit out of the ordinary to see her just walking down Highway 29 out here in the middle of nowhere. A lot of people walked everywhere they went in this part of West Virginia, but still, something didn't seem right.

  "Good morning, ma'am," he said, pulling over and rolling down his window. "Is everything all right?"

  "Thank y'all for stopping." She smiled. "Everything's just fine . . . but since you're asking, I was wondering if I could get a lift?"

  "Where you going?" Ralph asked. He couldn't quite place her drawl, but she definitely wasn't a city girl.

  "Somewhere that I could catch a Greyhound . . . I'm trying to get back to D. C."

  "What are you doing way out here without a vehicle?"

  "It's a long story . . . I guess you could say that I was chasin' after a fella."

  "He left you out here?"

  "No . . . actually, he didn't even know I was following him. I'm over him now though. He's long gone."

  THERE WAS LITTLE TO DO FOR TWO HOURS AT THE Greyhound depot in Martinsburg other than to watch people or watch the television set that was mounted to the wall. Since most of the people were doing little other than watching television, Jenna wound up watching it as well.

  She sat there in the uncomfortable Day-Glo pink fiberglass seat, wearing the clothes that she had stolen from a clothesline as she was hiking out of the woods where her parachute had brought her down.

  She sat there watching history unfold on the television--or at least today's crossroads chapter of American history. It was a blizzard of alerts, updates, and breaking news. Reports of Raymond Harris's death were confirmed. He had died in the crash of a highly advanced aircraft that Firehawk was testing. Many people had seen other aircraft in the area, and some had reported missiles being fired. There was speculation that rogue elements within the U. S. Air Force had killed Harris.

  What kind of a world was it, Jenna wondered, where those who had killed the man who had helped engineer a coup were considered rogue?

  There was no mention of a nuclear device, nor would there be. The viewers would never get to know about this, but apparently Albert Bacon Fachearon had heard.

  If not, he had at least gotten the message. One of the breaking news items confirmed that he had tendered his resignation and was negotiating his return to his home state in exchange for a pledge of no public statements.

  She thought of Troy Loensch and how preposterous his tale of The Transition had once seemed: his tale of PMCs overthrowing the government.

  She also thought about how her relationship with him had evolved. For the first couple of years she had known him, she had found his asshole behavior nauseating, but revulsion had turned to tolerance, and tolerance had turned to her deciding that he was not so bad after all. This realization had opened the door to lust, and the realization that--whatever his faults, and there were many--he was very not-so-bad in bed. As she had told him to his face, Troy might not always be a nice man, but he was good.

  She had been wondering all day whether he had gotten down in one piece, but she assumed that he had. She had been wondering all day whether she would see him again, and she hoped that she would. She wasn't ready to allow herself to fall in love with this man whom once she had hated, but she was ready to make love again.

  Jenna bought a bag of chips from the vending machine and stepped outside. The rain that had been falling earlier had stopped, and the sun was fighting to break through the clouds. She had never been in Martinsburg before, but it looked as though people were coming and going more or less as people in any small American city might do. There were SUVs with kids in car seats, and a plumber's pickup with copper pipes gleaming in his overhead rack. The U. S. government had been taken over by forces whom Jenna knew to be forces of darkness, but somebody was still spending a Saturday remodeling a bathroom.

  She wondered how many of these people passing by the Greyhound depot had voted for Fachearon. What did they think of what had happened? Not much, apparently. Like Jenna, like most people, they had other things on their minds today.

  Back inside, fewer people were watching the television. One group had boarded their bus, bound for Harrisburg. Others, like Jenna, had gone to visit the bank of vending machines. A few had simply dozed off.

  Jenna's bus finally arrived, so she missed Layton Kynelty's address to the nation from the White House. She could imagine what he might have said. He probably paid tribute to Raymond Harris, who had been his coconspirator in this bizarre fantasy that the world seemed to accept as a matter of course. He probably said a great deal about national unity.

  She was glad that she had missed it.

  An hour out of Martinsburg, Jenna Munrough was fast asleep.

  Headquarters, Firehawk, LLC, Herndon, Virginia

  "THEY WERE USING FIREHAWK ID CARDS," JENNA'S colleague told her. "But nobody recalls any of the names. It was chaos over there at the airport on Saturday. It was chaos everywhere. There were at least five of them. One of them was a woman, but she drove away with the others in a van when the two guys took the F-16s."

  "They just let them get away with it?" Jenna asked, silently noting how wrong the rumors of her own encounter at Reagan National Airport had become. As much as she deplored the inherent sexism in the rumor's distortion of fact, she was glad to discover that the imaginary woman had not been one of the pilots.

  "Somehow they got their hands on Firehawk ID, and on Saturday, nobody was questioning Firehawk ID . . . anywhere."

  Even after this exchange on Sunday, Jenna's decision to go in to the Firehawk offices on Monday morning was made with great trepidation. It need not have been. The media had consulted with itself and had decided to stick with the theory of rogue Air Force pilots--male rogues--and once decided, the theory took on an unshakable life of its own.

  The Justice Department, the NTSB, and even the U. S. Air Force itself launched investigations--but they sought only people who fit the profile decided upon in this theory with a life of its own.

  It was strange to walk through the lobby, with its stylized aluminum rendition of the company logo, a bird's head surrounded by flames, and to hear the buzz of conversation about the death of Raymond Harris.

  "Ms. Munrough."

  Jenna spun around at the sound of the receptionist calling her name. She was still a bit on edge, still expecting to be busted at any moment.

  "Yes?"

  "Ms. Munrough, you're wanted at a briefing in the seventh-floor conference room . . . um . . . they asked me to tell all the top management that there's a nine o'clock meeting up there this morning."

  "Thanks," Jenna said, breathing a sigh of relief. A meeting. Even at Firehawk, home office life was a succession of meetings. The bureaucracy must go on. The king is dead--long live the bureaucracy.

  She checked the time on her cell phone. She could get a cup of coffee to go and still make the meeting.

  As Jenna rounded the corner going into the coffee room, she found herself face-to-face with Lucy, her friend from special projects who had alerted her to the nuclear weapon.

  Lucy flashed a glance that asked, Did you have anything to do with Harris getting killed?

  Jenna replied with one that asked, Are you kidding? Of course not. Did you?

  Lucy just shook her head, nervous to be accused by Jenna's expression.

  "Did they find the thing?" Jenna asked under her breath.

  "Yeah," Lucy said nervously as she poured her c
offee. "How was your weekend?"

  "Fine," Jenna lied for the benefit of a couple of people who came into the coffee room. "I just hung out . . . did some laundry . . . watched a lot of television. How about you?"

  "I was down at the White House on Saturday. Avoided the television, myself."

  "I know what you mean," Jenna said, taking her coffee and heading toward the elevator that would take her to the rarefied atmosphere of the celebrated seventh floor.

  The conference room was filled with all the top home office people, the department heads, and some of the people from Raymond Harris's staff. She recognized Aron Arnold, the pilot whom Harris had recently brought in from Cactus Flat as sort of a fair-haired boy.

  Jenna knew Arnold's history with Troy Loensch, though he had little to say about him. She knew of their inauspicious first meeting, but that they had flown together with the HAWX Program.

  The mood in the room was one of expectation. With Harris out of the picture, everyone was curious to know what the board of directors might have in mind for Fire-hawk's future.

  This question was answered moments after Jenna set her cup on the table and slung her purse strap over the back of her chair.

  An unassuming, middle-aged Hispanic man entered through the door at the opposite' corner of the room.

  "I'm Jose Turcios." He smiled. "But most people call me Joe."

  With that, he went on to explain that he had been with Firehawk for nearly a dozen years, running special projects and field operations around the world.

  "I'm honored to tell you," he continued, "to tell you that the board has named me to succeed Raymond Harris as CEO of Firehawk. They are big shoes to fill and I'm just a size ten."

  He paused for the few chuckles that came in reaction to his poor attempt at levity, and continued.

  Conspicuously absent in Joe Turcios's comments was the increasingly vitriolic diatribe about the evils of ineffective government that everyone had grown used to hearing from Raymond Harris. Maybe it was that Turcios just had a different style, or perhaps it was simply that the events of the past seventy-two hours simply spoke for themselves.

  "The future at Firehawk is promising, and it will obviously be a busy one," Turcios added. "Now that Firehawk and our PMC partners at Cernavoda have the added responsibility of managing the executive branch of the federal government, there will be plenty to keep us busy . . . but I don't want to allow that to detract from our core business of conducting air operations."

 
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