Memorial Day, p.20Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
The man broke off in a near sprint toward the far end of the warehouse where one of the other techs had already placed the High Purity Germanium Detector (HPGD) so it could begin its background count at a safe distance from the container.
"Debbie," said Reimer over her earpiece, "What do you think about suiting up?"
"It's probably a good idea."
Hanousek strode over to one of the black travel cases and popped the two clasps. "All right, everyone, let's get our Anti C's on."
Normally there would have been a collective groan upon being told that they had to don their anticontaminant clothing, but not this morning. One by one the team members got into the suits; put on their gloves, boots, and helmets; and duct-taped the seams. By the time Hanousek was done, one of the techs came back with the HPGD in a black computer bag. He handed the device to her and she carefully placed it near the hotspot. Kneeling down she checked to make sure the Palm Pilot controlling the device was recording and relaying the information.
Nuclear scientists from Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and Los Alamos national laboratories were at this very moment sitting down in front of secure terminals to analyze the gamma spectral data that the HPGD was collecting. The scientists made up what the DOE referred to as the "Home Team."
Hanousek got up and walked back to where her team was set up. Her protective suit was already hot and uncomfortable, but at the moment she was more interested in the information that was being relayed to the two laptop computers. It would take a full fifteen minutes for the HPGD to get a thorough read on what was inside the trailer.
As the minutes began to tick by, Hanousek stood behind the team's chief scientist and watched the data pour in. Halfway through the process, things were not looking good. The Home Team was a hell of a lot smarter than she was, but even Hanousek could tell, based on what she'd seen so far that they were in big trouble.
"Paul, are you there?" she asked.
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"
"Affirmative. I don't understand it, but I'm listening to the Home Team discuss it."
"I don't think I've ever heard thebrainiacs sound this excited."
Hanousek peered through the Plexiglas face mask on her helmet and read the data. "Based on what I'm seeing I think it might be a good idea if we got ready to X-ray this thing."
"I concur. Just keep it low-energy okay?"
"You don't need to tell me," Hanousek laughed nervously. "I'm standing next to the damn thing."
"Sorry." Reimer meant it. If he could change places with her, he'd do it in a second.
"Paul," said Hanousek, "you guys got anybody on their way down here to take care of this thing, or do you expect us to do it?"
"Green is taking off from Bragg as we speak." Reimer was referring to Delta Force's WMD disposal team.
Hanousek relaxed a bit at the news that she would not be expected to defuse and dispose of the bomb if it was active. "All right, I'm going to get ready to X-ray this bad boy."
"Hold on a second, Debbie."
Hanousek could hear Reimer talking to someone else. After about ten seconds he came back on the line. "Debbie, the brain trust is in agreement that we have special nuclear material."
Even though Hanousek knew it was heading in this direction, the news still gave her pause. The faces of her three children and husband flashed before her. A second later she regained her composure and asked, "Is there enough mass to create a yield?"
Hanousek's mouth went bone dry. "How big?"
Twenty kilotons. "Holy shit." Hanousek thought of the explosive force. If this thing went off, the crater alone would be close to a half a mile in diameter.
"Holy shit is right. Listen, Debbie, I have to deliver the good news to the president. Get me an X-ray. I'll be back on the line shortly."
"Roger." Hanousek muted the headset and told the team to get the main portable X-ray machine ready. While everyone else went about their work, she was left standing there staring at the large red steel container. The thought occurred to her, not for the first time, but with new poignancy, that she was severely underpaid.
* * *
The National Security Council had been waiting impatiently for news about the contents of the container in Charleston. Interestingly enough, the vessel that had been boarded by SEAL Team 6 in the Chesapeake Bay seemed to have no weapons aboard. A search of the entire ship with gamma neutron detectors had produced not a single hit. The specific container in question was located in a rather inaccessible area of the hold, but the SEALs were able to lower a gamma neutron detector down between the containers and get a whiff that came up negative. As a precautionary measure the president ordered the vessel turned around and taken back out to sea, where a floating crane and barge would then be used to move the cargo around so they could take a closer look at the container in question.
When Reimer's voice rang out of the secure conference room speakers at Site R, all conversation ceased immediately.
"Mr. President, it's Paul Reimer from NEST. I've got an update for you on Charleston, and I'm afraid it's not good." His voice sounded concerned but not in the least bit panicked.
The president shot Kennedy a glance, and then looked at Reimer's face, which was once again up on the large screen at the far end of the room. "Go ahead."
"It appears the information provided by the CIA is accurate. My team has confirmed that a device of special nuclear material is in fact inside the container in question, and it is large enough to create an estimated yield in the twenty-kiloton range."
No one responded to Reimer's shocking information at first. Uncomfortable glances were exchanged and a few hushed expletives were mumbled by no one and to no one in particular.
Finally, President Hayes asked the obvious. "Is it secured?"
Reimer hesitated for a second and then said, "That's the million-dollar question, sir. In the sense that it is in our possession, yes it is secure. But just how stable it is has yet to be determined."
The president's chief of staff frowned and asked no one in particular, "What in the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that we have it and the terrorists don't." Reimer commented. "At the same time, however, my people haven't had enough time to ascertain the specific configuration of the mass."
Jones waved her hands in front of her face and in an unusually conciliatory tone said, "Mr. Reimer, I'm sorry, but I'm not following you. Could you put this in simple English for those of us who don't have a technical background?"
"Simply put," Reimer sighed, "We don't know if this damn thing is critical and ready to blow or not." He could tell he'd finally got everyone's undivided attention. "We have to move cautiously with it. We can't simply rip open the door of the container and start rummaging around for the device. It could be booby-trapped, so my people are just now getting ready to X-ray the container in an effort to ascertain the configuration and design of the device."
The president cautiously folded his arms across his chest and said, "Give me your best-and worst-case scenarios."
Reimer shrugged, "Best case the thing never got this far."
"But it has," the president said firmly.
"Best case," Reimer shrugged again, "the device has yet to be armed, and it's relatively easy to secure and dispose of. Worst-case scenario someone is waiting for the container in Charleston and they discover that we're onto them."
"They remotely detonate the device, sir, and in the blink of an eye the city of Charleston is history."
The president glanced up at his secretary of Homeland Security who had only minutes ago lobbied hard for locking down the city. He made a mental note to himself and addressed Reimer again. "What do you advise we do at this point?"
"Before we do anything, sir, we need to find out exactly what is in that container. That's going to take
"How much time are we talking?" asked Hayes.
"Within thirty minutes my people should have a pretty complete picture of what we're up against."
"And if it's armed and ticking?"
"We'll have an in extremis situation and Delta's going to have to work real fast, sir."
The president scratched his chin and said, "All right, Mr. Reimer. Good work and let us know the second you find anything else out."
* * *
The dissention started almost immediately, and it was no surprise that it originated from Mount Weather, where Vice President Baxter, Secretary of the Treasury Keane, and DHS Secretary McClellan were cloistered. In hindsight, it had been a very bad idea to put the three of them in same location, for each man had a Chicken Little streak in him that under normal circumstances was barely tolerable, but in the midst of a real crisis could manifest itself as near hysteria.
Attorney General Stokes stayed out of it at first. He had been doing a lot of thinking over the last hour, and not just about the immediate events that were going to shape history. He was looking ahead to what the future might hold. The habit had been drilled into him by his mother. Every crisis has a moment where either things slide over the precipice, or disaster is averted. Most people run for cover, panic, overreact, or freeze, but the cunning find opportunity in the midst of chaos, and this crisis was a tectonic event. If this bomb went off, Stokes knew he would be forever associated with a president who didn't act fast enough.
Screw the Department of Homeland Security. The American people had only a vague concept of what it was supposed to do. The Department of Justice and the FBI were a different story. Citizens knew that domestically it was the president and then the attorney general who were in charge of protecting them.
And presidents were rarely sacrificed, at least not until the next election. Members of the president's cabinet were an entirely different story, however. When a full-blown crisis exploded they were used like vestal virgins in an attempt to satiate some pagan god on a far-flung piece of volcanic rock. First you were fed to the press, piece by piece. Your career and reputation in tatters, you were then sent packing back to wherever it was you came from, where you could count on people who once called you a close friend to treat you as if you had the plague. Yes, in Washington the mighty could fall fast and far, but Attorney General Martin Stokes had no intention of becoming a footnote to some modern-day Greek tragedy.
Always the realist, however, he understood that trying to dodge this particular bullet, this late in the game, would be futile. There was a remote chance that he could throw Secretary McClellan under the bus. Homeland Security was only in its infancy compared to the other cabinet-level departments, but had nonetheless already garnered a reputation as a place staffed by incompetents. Even so, with a disaster of this magnitude, it was likely that it would take more than one cabinet member to appease the wrath that would come down from the Hill, the press, and public in general. No, this thing was too big to get out of the way of. The best play was to cement his relationship with the president and hope that this Reimer fellow and his NEST people were as good as advertised.
The bickering from the Mount Weather facility had been going on for several minutes. Secretary McClellan was once again proposing that Charleston be locked down. Morning rush hour was underway, and with each passing minute, he argued, hundreds if not thousands of people were becoming targets. At a bare minimum he wanted the traffic coming into the city stopped. Secretary of the Treasury Keane said if they shut down Charleston, they would have to shut down the financial markets and get out in front of the likely panic.
Midway through this debate, Stokes noticed the absence of General Flood and Secretary of Defense Culbertson. He supposed they were busy dealing with the other three ships on their list. Stokes was about to jump into the fray when Vice President Baxter made the poor decision to bring politics into the equation.
"Robert," proclaimed Baxter, "We're up for reelection. If this thing goes off, and the press finds out we knew about it, and did nothing to secure the safety of the citizens of Charleston your administration is over."
Stokes knew Vice President Sherman Baxter well enough to know he wasn't a stupid man, so he supposed it was his pride that had finally got the best of him. It was no secret that President Hayes had all but shunned his vice president. The Electoral College had forced them into bed together, and, at first, things went well enough, but not for long. Baxter was from California and, as promised, he filled the campaign coffer and helped deliver the most prized state in the Union. After that, though, things went quickly downhill. Baxter had slowly but surely been isolated. It seemed he'd spent the majority of the last two years either abroad or raising money. On any issue of importance, he was noticeably absent.
Rumors circulated everywhere that he would be replaced on the ticket, and Stokes supposed he had chosen this as his moment to be heard. Stokes had his own plans, however, and so like a loyal knight, he jumped to the defense of his president.
In an unusually loud and forceful voice Stokes said, "I think everyone needs tocalm the hell down and leave politics out of this."
The expression on Vice President Baxter's face said it all. He looked like the captain of a ship that had just been broadsided by a torpedo.
Stokes didn't wait long to fill the silent void that followed his admonishment. "If we lock down thedamn city we'll create a panic, and as Reimer just told us possibly alert the terrorists that we're onto them, which could incite them into detonating this damn thing and vaporize the place. So " Stokes paused and in a more composed voice added, "let's just take a deep breath, relax, and let Reimer and his people, and General Flood and his people, do what they're trained to do, and stay out of their way."
Stokes's reward came only seconds later, when President Hayes smiled approvingly at his attorney general and said, "Well put, Martin."
* * *
As someone who usually ran two to three marathons a year, Debbie Hanousek wasn't afraid to break a sweat, but this was ridiculous. It wasn't even midmorning, and the temperature in the warehouse was already pushing an extremely humid ninety degrees. That meant inside her anticontaminant suit it was closer to 100 degrees, but there was no taking the helmet off to wipe the sweat from her face. She and her team had been through enough training exercises and real-life scares to have mastered the fear of suffocating in the suits. She'd never panicked herself, but she'd seen plenty of others do it.
She'd been watching each member of her team for signs of stress. They were well trained and efficient at what they did, but they'd never faced anything like this before. In fact no one in the NEST program had ever faced anything like this. There had been plenty of false alarms; mostly small radiological devices, usually made from medical sources, simply misplaced or forgotten, but nothing of this magnitude-actual bomb-grade nuclear material with enough mass to create a twenty-kiloton yield.
The scientific brain trust located at the various labs were still poring over the data Hanousek had provided, and they were all in agreement that this was in fact the real deal. The signature of weapon-grade nuclear material was not something that was mimicked by anything else in nature. They had already begun trying to deduce where it could possibly have come from. For Hanousek the question was truly academic. Right now she just wanted to render the thing safe.
When the man-portable X-ray machine was finally in place, Hanousek gave them the nod to start out at low power, not wanting to affect any electronic circuitry that could be part of the device's fire set. The first shot showed them almost nothing. This was no surprise to any of them. They were moving cautiously. The two techs
This one was a little better. She could just barely distinguish the outline of a volleyball-sized object. Hanousek put her thumb out and gestured for the techs to increase power. The third shot was decent. She could clearly make out the configuration of the device, but that was it. The design was simple classic implosion, a spherical core of nuclear material surrounded by explosives, only there was one problem.
"Increase power again," Hanousek called out.
The next shot came over the screen and she frowned. Hanousek pressed a button on her hip and said, "Paul, are you getting all this?"
"Yeah a second or two after you do."
She paused just long enough to make sure Reimer was looking at the fourth shot. "Well any idea where the detonators and fire set are?"
Hanousek gestured for the techs to increase power one more time. When the image appeared on the laptop, she was still mystified. "Paul, I'm going to shoot a cross section from underneath."
Based on the shots they'd already taken, the technicians quickly calculated the exact location of the device and crawled under the trailer. They placed the portable X-ray machine within inches of the bottom side of the container and took the first shot. They were right on the mark and Hanousek had them increase power immediately. After three shots they had what they were looking for.
Again, Hanousek asked Reimer, "What do you think?"
"I think I need to call the president."
"I would agree."
"Okay. Stand down, and wait for Green to get there."
"And, Debbie "
Memorial Day by Vince Flynn / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes