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WHITLEY STRIEBER is the author of over twenty novels and works of nonfiction among them The Grays, The Wolfen, The Hunger, Communion, and The Coming Global Superstorm (with Art Bell), which was the inspiration for the film The Day After Tomorrow.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
General Alfred William North entered his superior officer’s luxurious suite in the Pentagon. General Samson had been appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year, and had taken Al with him into the stratospheric world of high-level military politics.
General Samson’s orderly had not been present to announce him. Given the present state of chaos within the military, that wasn’t too surprising. He was probably on some detail or other within the vast building, and there hadn’t been anybody available to spell him.
They were due at the White House in ten minutes, so Al didn’t stand on ceremony. Knocking once, he entered the office. Al had met Tom Samson when he’d been promoted to Air Force Chief of Staff. He’d been a very efficient officer, and personable.
That, however, turned out to apply only to superior officers. Now that he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Al was still vice chairman, things had changed. Tom was a cold, charmless yeller, he was intolerant of failure, he was extremely demanding. Al still believed him to be a good officer, but his approach to the job was often too rigid. Truth to tell, Al had expected this promotion to be his. Counted on it, actually. What had happened had been a serious humiliation and a sad end to a great career. He had known the president for years, and he could not understand why he’d chosen Tom over him, frankly. He’d carried out his responsibilities with excellence.
The difference between the two of them was that Tom had served in fighters and Al had trained in them but served his entire career as a staff officer. Tom had a Purple Heart and an Air Medal. Did Al, who had never heard a shot fired in anger, envy Tom his participation in the Cuban Troubles?
Short answer: damn right. If it had been him, his career would not have stopped just short of the pinnacle.
“Tom, I’m here,” he said. Tentatively.
The bathroom door was ajar, so Al walked toward it. “Tom?” he repeated.
There came a shuffle of sound from inside the bathroom.
“Excuse me,” Tom replied, an angry challenge in his rumble.
“Tom, I’m sorry, Lenny’s not out front—”
“Get out of here!”
As Al headed for the door, he noticed, open on Tom’s desk, a silver box about the size of an old-fashioned cigarette case. Inside were six narrow golden cylinders. Lying beside them was a hypodermic, silver, that tapered seamlessly from a wide back with a socket in it that would obviously fit one of the cylinders, to a needle with a point so fine it almost appeared hairlike.
Al hurried out, his mind racing. That outfit—was he an addict of some sort? A cancer victim? And what strange looking equipment.
A moment later, Tom slammed his office door with such force that the entire room shook.
Al hardly heard. If Tom was an addict, very frankly, that could be good. Worth knowing.
At that point, Lenny reappeared.
“General, let me announce you,” he said.
“He knows I’m here.”
Lenny went white. “He does?”
Al nodded. Nothing more was said, and a moment later Tom strode out, resplendent in his uniform, his gray eyes staring straight ahead, his face expressionless.
Lenny snapped to attention.
“We need to talk,” Tom snarled at him as he passed his desk.
“You bet, yes sir, young fella.” He went stomping off into the outer part of the suite.
Al followed him, and together they descended in his private elevator to the basement garage, where his staff car awaited them, rear door open. All of this was done in silence. In point of fact, you just plain did not talk to Tom unless he spoke first. He wasn’t responsive to social chatter, jokes, gossip—anything like that. In fact, the most amazing thing about him was that he held this most political of all military appointments. How the bastard had managed it, every single general on his staff would have loved to know—if only to help find a way to hurt him.
Historically, the Joint Chiefs was a solid, smooth-running organization. Not under Tom. Tom had made it into a rat’s nest full of spider webs. Men who had worked together for years now fought like what they were—creatures in a trap.
In the year since Tom had come, there had been five “resignations.” All, in fact, firings, brutal, mean spirited, often mysterious. Worse, they had been followed by vindictive little appointments to posts designed to humiliate the victims. General Halff had been Army Chief of Staff. He was now serving out his time as commander of Fort Silker in Mississippi. Fort Silker was being decommissioned, so Harry’s basic job was to arrange for environmental cleanup and the sale of assets.
Al settled into the car. He knew that this meeting was important, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was about. He supposed that Tom knew, but Tom wasn’t saying. Perhaps Al was on the chopping block. Perhaps Al was due to be caught unprepared in front of the president, a certain prelude to destruction.
Except for one thing: Al had known James Hannah Wade since they were roomies at the Academy. In recent years, the friendship had necessarily become arm’s-length, but the two men were still close enough that Jimmy would on occasion invite Al to hammer squash balls with him. This usually happened when the going in this very difficult presidency got really rough. But Jimmy was flying high right now, so no squash with his old friend. And, as both of them knew, betrayed friend.
The car turned onto Fourteenth Street, headed past the familiar emerald arches of a McDonald’s, then entered the White House grounds.
“We’re listening today,” Tom said. “An intelligence report.”
“What’s the general area, sir?”
Tom turned toward him, then turned back again. A moment later, the car stopped, and they were walking through the White House to the Cabinet Room—but then they passed the Cabinet Room and the Oval and headed through Deputy Chief of Staff Morrisey’s office into the Presidential Study.
It was an improbable place for a large meeting—except that it wasn’t a large meeting.
“Hi, Al,” the president said. Al could feel Tom stiffen. Good sign, maybe the president had finally realized that the appointment had been the mistake that Al had told him it was—practically the only political thought he’d ever shared with him. He turned to Tom. “Good morning, General.”
“Good morning, Mr. President.”
A moment later, National Intelligence Chief Bo Waldo came in, followed by two aides, who proceeded to hover over the TV.
Waldo spoke. “Yesterday, there was a massive explosion in Cairo that resulted in at least a hundred thousand deaths and property damage on an extraordinary scale. The explosion destroyed the Pyramid of Cheops.”
“And?” Tom snapped.
The president gave him a sharp look.
But his impatience was understandable. The Cairo disaster was on every news channel in the world. You couldn’t find anything else on TV, radio, the Internet—you name it. Al thought, they know the terrorist group responsible, and they’re about to inform us that the Brits are going in with a hit. We were being asked to provide some sort of support, no doubt, and the problem with this kind of thing was always the same: how did you do what one empire wanted without angering another?
Waldo cleared his throat. “We haven’t had another one in half an hour, Mr. President,” he said.
Al’s mind whirled. Another one? What was he saying, here?
“How many are there, at this point?”
“Including the one that just came up in Cambodia, that would be fourteen.”
Al wanted to ask what in the world they were talking about, but he couldn’t without revealing his ignorance. Tom’s glare showed that he was thinking along exactly the same lines. The Joint Chiefs controlled no fewer than five uniformed intelligence services, in addition to the Philippines Colonial Agency and the Cuban Intelligence Corps, so how was it that they hadn’t been briefed by their own people? Tom would want that looked at, and for once Al would be in total agreement with him. It was an inexcusable lapse.
The president said, “And they’re all—it’s the same? Distance, all that?”
“Each one is exactly six thousand two hundred twenty miles from an axis point eleven hundred miles from the north pole. They’ve all appeared in the middle of ancient ruins. The Institut Indo-Chinois de Culture has already started testing the one in Preah Vihear. Thus far, it has a hardness number of at least three thousand, just like Cairo. Clearly, the same substance, and by far the hardest thing on earth. The only weapon that might affect these objects would be a hydrogen bomb.”
“Do we have any of those?”
“We do, Sir,” Tom said. “Well hidden from Royal Air Force mandatory inspections, but we do.”
The Brits were rigorous enforcers of the Non-Nuclear Pact between the five empires, of which the U.S. was the smallest and the most lightly armed—and therefore the only one that actually needed to obey the damned pact. Certainly, the French didn’t. And as far as the Czar was concerned or the secretive Japanese Emperor, who knew what they might be doing in their hidden lairs? There might even be a Chinese warlord with a nuke of some sort.
The president went to the window. “I’ve worried about one coming up here in Washington. Should I?”
“Unless there’s another phase,” Waldo responded, “this thing has the look of being completed. But you know, of course, what’s odd—every single location was an ancient sacred site.”
“So they knew,” the president said, turning suddenly, staring first at one of them and then another.
Al saw a plea in his eye, as if the American people were there, pleading through him for knowledge.
“Lenses,” Al said. Tom gave him a sharp look, but he continued. “Lenses reflect and they refract. Do we have any idea which it is that these are supposed to do?”
Waldo shook his head. “So far, they’re simply there. According to MI-3, the one in Cairo isn’t emitting or absorbing any known energy. The Institut says the same about the one in Cambodia.”
“Any idea if they’re natural, then?”
“We don’t think they’re natural, Mr. President.” Waldo replied.
“But it’s a good question,” Al said. “If they’re manmade, who constructed them and why?”
“That is an urgent question,” President Wade snapped. “Possibly the most urgent question in the history of the world.” He looked from one of them to the other. “You seem unimpressed, Tom.”
“Sir, if we don’t know anything about them, how can we make that assessment?”
The president stiffened. “It’s instinct, goddamn it!”
“There’s something else you need to see,” Waldo said hurriedly. “Roll the imagery, please.”
The TV screen flickered, came to life. Al saw people walking through a rather pretty countryside. They were dressed oddly, some in nightclothes, others in underwear, one or two in coats, one completely naked. There were men, women, and children.
The group was being followed by green and white checked police cars, with their blue light bars flickering.
“What are we looking at, here?” President Wade asked.
“This is in Gloucestershire,” Waldo said.
“It’s live,” Waldo replied. “During the night, these people were struck by a bright light that emanated from objects overhead that were disk-shaped in structure. They’ve been walking due north ever since. They’ve come fourteen miles in eleven hours.”
“Are these things related to the disks we’ve been seeing for years? The ones NASA claims are intelligently controlled?”
“We don’t know. We really don’t know much of anything.”
“Bottom line, though, these people can’t be stopped, am I right?” Tom asked, his voice full of sarcasm.
“They cannot be stopped, General Samson,” Waldo snapped back. “They can be demobilized only by being drugged. An examination of one of them completed at a hospital in the area showed a normal physical specimen. But a brain scan revealed a different picture. The brain function was about a third normal.”
“They’ve lost something, then,” Tom responded. “Their intelligence?”
“We don’t know,” Waldo replied.
“Do we have any imagery of the attack?” the president asked.
“Witnesses report disks glowing dull orange.”
Al had a thought. “Where is the nearest lens, in relation to Gloucestershire?”
“What relevance does that have?” Tom asked. “If I may be so bold, General?”
“No, it’s a good question,” Waldo replied, “and the answer is, the nearest lens in the Tassili Desert in Algeria. And what I was about to add is that there’s a Foreign Legion report that a burst of orange fireballs was emitted from the lens there. But the event took place just four minutes before the Gloucestershire attack, so—”
“They’re related,” Al said. Instantly, he regretted it. He’d spoken in haste.
“General, I fail to see—” Tom began.
The president interrupted him. “I agree. Whether the things that struck in Gloucestershire came out of the lens in Algeria, God only knows. But there is obviously a relationship of some kind between all of these things—the disks we’ve been seeing for fifty years, the ones that attacked those people, and the lenses, and I might add that I think we need to assume the worst, here.”
“All I see are British and French problems,” Samson said. “Unless some of these things are in the Japanese Empire. Are they?”
“No, so far only British and French imperial territory is involved, and some South American countries.”
“Then I say we wait,” Tom announced, his voice taking on the tone of the pulpit. “Maybe it’s some kind of a secret weapon. Nothing to do with us. The Czar’s supposed to have some doozies, and he wants African possessions. He’d like Egypt, in fact, to annoy the Turks, if nothing else.”
The president turned on him. “Why are you here, Tom? Why in hell do you think you’re here? Something is wrong. Goddamn wrong.” He gestured at the screen. “This will spread, you know.”
Tom held his ground. “We have no evidence of that, Sir.”
“It will spread!”
“It’s not an attack on the United States. And there’s no evidence that such an attack is imminent.”
“Tom,” the president responded, “as soon as you get back to your office, you are to go to DEFCON 1 and issue a War Warning to all commands, worldwide.”
“We’re under attack, you damn fool,” the president said. “The blue, white, and red, damn you! Not just a couple of the empires and a few banana kingdoms. Us!”
Tom went stiff. His eyes seemed literally to glitter with murderous rage.
But the president wasn’t finished. “Gentlemen, I’ve got a military background, and I know when my enemy is probing my defenses. That’s what happened in that little town in the very heart of the most powerful empire on earth. Bo, I want you to liaise with the Brits, the French, all the empires on this, and I want CIA to watch the str...
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Book Description Tor Books, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. New item. May have light shelf wear. Seller Inventory # 161214020
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