It was turning out to be a long morning. I had landed at Tinker Air Force Base a couple of hours ago, delivering less than the total quantity of backpack sized nuclear bombs than had been expected. In all fairness, I’d run into a few problems and some game changing news while recovering the devices from Los Alamos, but there were a couple of senior military officers who weren’t too happy at the moment. Weren’t too happy with me for not having delivered, and even less happy with the news I had brought back, courtesy of a renegade Russian GRU officer. I’ve pissed off senior officers before, and knew they would get over it. What was irritating as hell was the woman sharing the screen with the Admiral.
Kathleen Clark had been the Secretary of Energy. She was on vacation in Alaska with her husband, an avid salmon fisherman, and her personal aide when the attacks had occurred. For several weeks she had stayed at their remote fishing cabin with a small security detail. Satellite phones had allowed her to stay in contact with the President and the two members of her staff that had survived and were bunkered with the White House staff.
But as the federal government quickly began losing its ability to govern, there was less and less for her to do other than call in to meetings and listen to the desperation in the voices of the men and women in Mount Weather and Cheyenne Mountain. Then, her calls had gone unanswered. She couldn’t receive a response from either location and concern pushed her out of the safety of the Alaskan wilderness.
A six hour flight in a small bush plane, piloted by her husband who was a retired Coast Guard pilot, and they arrived at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. No one, including the General in command of the post, recognized her. But she maintained her composure as the Army went about verifying her identity. Once they were satisfied she was who she said she was, she was briefed on the current state of affairs and placed on a conference call with Admiral Packard, the ranking US military officer still alive.
It was the Admiral who had recognized the situation as soon as he realized whom he was talking to. The Secretary of Energy was legally in the line of succession for the office of the President. He had a list of everyone in civilian leadership positions that had been in either of the bunkers, and there were only two names not on that list. One was Jeremy Smyth, the Secretary of Education, and the other Kathleen Clark.
No one had any doubt that every person that had been in Mount Weather and Cheyenne Mountain was dead. That left two potential persons to assume the Presidency. One of them was missing, and one of them had wandered in out of the Alaskan bush. After several frantic hours of talking to any lawyer he could find, the Admiral acknowledged that per the Constitution of the United States, Kathleen Clark should be sworn in as President without delay.
That led to the next round of consultations with the lawyers. Who could swear in a President? Admiral Packard was very surprised to learn that there is no requirement or provision in the Constitution for WHO officiates the swearing in. In fact, the only requirement is that the individual being sworn in recite the oath of office. Technically, all Kathleen needed to do was say the words and she was President. But the military likes to stand on ceremony, and the base commander at Wainwright, Brigadier General Carey, officiated and was the first to congratulate the new President of the United States.
“And you felt you had the authority to make this decision?” The new president glared at me from half of a huge, high definition panel attached to the wall of the conference room we were borrowing from the base commander. President Clark was what could be described as a handsome woman. She had probably been a head turner when she was younger, but age was catching up with her.
Admiral Packard took up the other half of the screen. The Admiral was CINCPACFLT, Commander In Chief Pacific Fleet, or the commander of all US Navy ships, aircraft and personnel assigned to that half of the planet. He was a handful of years older than me, iron-grey hair in a severe brush cut and had those washed out, blue grey eyes you see on old sailors. The image was so good I could even see a couple of errant eyebrow hairs, which were distracting as hell. If you ever saw the actor Larry Hagman in the last few years of his life, well, those kind of errant eyebrow hairs.
We were communicating via a secure satellite video link, and he was on board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The Washington had led one of the US battle groups that had fought and defeated the Chinese invasion fleet a couple of weeks ago. Talking to the Admiral, I had little doubt he was one of those leaders that had probably stood in the open air on the carrier’s deck while a battle raged all around the giant ship.
“Madam President, yes I did. This was completely unexpected and I had no time to stop and make a phone call to ask for permission. So I made the decision and can’t undo it.” I wasn’t exactly comporting myself in a properly respectful military manner, but I’d been being grilled for over an hour now. First by Colonel Crawford as soon as I stepped off the Stealth Hawk helicopter in Oklahoma City, and now by Popeye the sailor man and a woman I’d never heard of before an hour ago. I know, I know. Watch my ass before I wind up in the stockade. Wouldn’t be the first time. That ship sailed a lot of years ago.
On the screen I saw the Admiral’s forehead crease a moment before the President’s eyes flashed in anger at my response. Whether at my words, tone or both, I couldn’t tell, and frankly didn’t give a shit. Out of view of the camera focused on us, Crawford reached out and placed one of his big hands on my forearm. A ‘shut the hell up, you idiot’ touch if I’ve ever felt one.
“Gentlemen, I feel I need to get a better handle on this situation. I am going to be dispatching my Chief of Staff to Oklahoma as soon as General Carey can arrange a flight. I also want a supply of vaccine ready to be sent back to Alaska when that plane arrives. I will be staying here for the time being. Is there anything else?”
“Thank you, Madam President.” Packard spoke up quickly; a moment later the President’s half of the screen going blank. There was a flash as the screen refreshed and when it came back the Admiral filled the entire view. The frown on his face changed to a smile and a snort of laughter as his eyes shifted to look at my commanding officer.
“You’re right, Colonel. He does have a big pair, and a mouth to match.” The Admiral’s eyes shifted back to me.
“OK, Major. I’m not going to Monday morning quarterback you. But for all our sakes, let’s hope your gut made the right decision. I’m expecting a preliminary report on the analysis of the data from the flash drive within the hour. The analysis of the live vaccine will take a little longer.” The vials of vaccine I’d been given by Captain Irina Vostov were in the hands of the few surviving virologists who had set up shop in the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center near downtown. They were also pouring through the data on the small thumb drive and had shot a copy to a group of experts in Hawaii.
Hawaii had come through the nuclear, nerve gas and viral attacks completely unscathed. The Chinese had planned to use the island chain as a strategic base for invasion of Alaska and the continental US, and had not wanted to deal with radiation or an infected and enraged population. When the Navy, with help from a few of our allies, had destroyed the Chinese battle groups and troop carriers, America’s 50th state breathed a big sigh of relief.
Now they were dealing with shortages of just about everything. Hawaii produced very little of anything consumed by its residents, being dependent on uninterrupted deliveries of everything from fuel to food, clothing to diapers. I had overheard it mentioned that there had been a couple of food riots in Honolulu when the Governor declared martial law and seized all available food stocks to ensure equitable and rationed distribution to the population.
It was only going to get worse, because there wasn’t anyone left to produce, package and deliver food to the grocery store shelves. I really hoped there was someone over there taking charge and getting some crops in the ground before they literally started starving to death. You can live without power in Hawaii if they couldn’t keep the electric grid going. It’s not like a Minnesota winter or Arizona summer where the temperatures can kill you for several months out of every year. And there’s plenty of water on the islands. But food…
“Oh, and Major.” The Admiral leaned toward the camera and extended his arm, ready to hit the call end button. “Watch your mouth with our new president. You’re an officer now. Act like it, and don’t make your Colonel look like an asshole.”
“Thank you, sir.” Crawford spoke. I decided it was best if I kept my mouth shut. The screen went dark a moment later and the Colonel killed our connection to the satellite.
“I need a helo, sir.” I said, dismissing the rebuke I’d just received.
“I’ve already got two out looking for them. What do you think you’re going to do that isn’t already being done?” He replied, rubbing his eyes, voice sounding tired.
“I think I need to be doing something, and you don’t need me here. I’m not a scientist and there’s no fighting to be done at the moment.”
I was tired, but at least I’d gotten a few hours of sleep on the flight from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City. Granted, it was on a hard, vibrating steel deck and my back and neck felt like someone had tied knots in them, but there was no way I could just sit around as long as Jackson, Rachel and Dog were still out there.
Crawford looked at me with red rimmed and bloodshot eyes. It was the first time I had seen him look tired since I’d met him in Tennessee. He leaned back in his chair, reached for a pack of cigarettes then glanced around the room and dropped the pack onto the table and his hands into his lap.
“OK. Go find Captain Blanchard and tell him I authorized it.” He finally said with a sigh of resignation.
“Thank you, sir.” I got to my feet, ready to get out of there before he changed his mind or thought of something else for me to do.
“Oh, and Major.” I paused with my hand on the handle of the conference room door and turned to look at him. “You did the right thing in Los Alamos. Do you think this Captain Vostov will be able to pull it off?”
“I hope so, sir. If not, then the Russians win. There’s not enough of us left to stop them.” He nodded and waved me out the door.
It didn’t take me long to track down Captain Blanchard. He was never far from the Colonel, and when I found him he was standing next to a parked Humvee outside the base commander’s office. He had a laptop open on the hood, typing with one hand while he held a satellite phone to his ear with the other. He nodded when I walked up and raised the index finger on his typing hand into the air, telling me he needed another minute. Leaning against a fender I lit a cigarette and looked around the sprawling air base.
It was approaching late morning and the sun was shining brightly. The temperature wasn’t that high, but it was humid as hell. Reminded me of Georgia. I was surprised, but when I thought about it realized I knew next to nothing about Oklahoma. My parents had been born and raised in eastern Oklahoma, near the Arkansas border, but had left for greener pastures in Texas soon after they married. I knew I had relatives somewhere to the east, maybe, but I hadn’t seen or talked to any of them since I was a small child. I idly wondered if I had a clan of cousins hunkered down and trying to survive.
“What can I do for you, Major?” The Captain asked, bringing me back to the moment.
I told him what I needed and that the Colonel had authorized it. He nodded and turned to check a file on his laptop. After a couple of minutes of poking keys he told me he’d have a Black Hawk ready to go in an hour. I thanked him, got directions to the base hospital and started walking. I wanted to go check in on Tech Sergeant Zach Scott who had broken an arm and cracked his skull while we were in Los Alamos.
I walked along the side of a wide boulevard that ran across the northern edge of the base. Traffic was steady, Air Force vehicles passing me at sedate speeds. The last thing you ever want is to get a traffic violation on a military base. Pretty much guarantees you will wind up standing in front of your commanding officer. I’ve actually known a couple of guys that were passed over for promotion because they had speeding tickets on post in their records.
Still heavily armed, I was drawing lots of stares from passersby. I could have walked around an Army post without even getting a second glance, but the Air Force isn’t used to filthy grunts with weapons strapped to their bodies wandering around. A Security Forces Hummer slowed to a stop next to me, the driver looking at me with narrowed eyes. I turned and faced her, seeing her relax a notch when she spotted my Major’s oak leaf.
“Can I give you a ride, sir?” She asked. God she was young. She looked like she should be worrying about who was going to ask her to the prom, not driving an Air Force Hummer with a pistol on her belt.
I took her up on the offer and was soon delivered to the hospital entrance. I thanked the Airman for the ride and strode through the glass doors, breathing a sigh of relief at the cool, dry air of the lobby. Another Airman was seated behind an imposing reception desk and looked me over when I walked up. I told him who I was looking for and was given directions to the room Scott was in.
“Major?” I had already started walking to the elevators when he called. I stopped and turned to look back at him. “There are no weapons allowed in the hospital. Sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be sorry, Airman. But I’m going up, and I’m not leaving my weapons behind. And if you don’t have a weapon, you should.” I turned and strode briskly to the elevator.
There would either be a pissed off senior officer and a squad of Security Forces waiting for me when I came back down, or the Airman would ignore my breach of policy and take my advice. I didn’t really care which at the moment. I stepped out of the elevator on the third floor, checked the sign to see which way to go, and then whipped my rifle up when I heard the scream of an infected female.