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Copyright © 2006 by Netco Partners.


We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Martin H. Greenberg, Denise Little, John Helfers, Brittiany Koren, and Tom Colgan, our editor. But most important, it is for you, our readers, to determine how successful our collective endeavor has been.

—Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik


Fort Stephens, Oklahoma

January 2015 C.E.

Every time he had to work guard duty on a night like this, Stevens’s respect for the pioneers in their covered wagons went way up: That bone-chilling Oklahoma winter wind cut through you like a razor. How they could travel across the country on nothing but rutted dirt roads, no running water, no electric heaters . . . Amazing.

Stevens, Sergeant Theodore M., whose name wasn’t spelled the same as that of the base’s, but who caught all kinds of crap about it being “his” base anyhow, wasn’t going to step out of the nice, warm kiosk into the teeth of that howling gale without a damned good reason.

Somebody was going to have to, though. . . .

“Car approaching, Sarge,” Billings said. “Coming pretty fast.”

“I’m not blind, Billings.”

The private shrugged.

“But since your eagle eye picked it up, you can step out and check his ID—”

The rest of what he was going to say was cut off by the screech made by four radial tires under a full-sized hunk of Detroit iron as the brakes locked. The car, a black Ford, skidded to a stop ten feet short of the gate’s bumpers, a smoking trail of rubber behind it.

“Jesus!” Billings said, coming to his feet.

“Side arm!” Stevens said as he drew his pistol.

Billings also pulled his Beretta, but like Stevens, kept it low and pointed at the floor.

A soldier in an Army winter dress uniform and coat leaped out on the driver’s side of the Ford, waving his hands. “Wounded, we got an injured general in here! Open the gate!”

The voice came through loud and clear over the state-of-the-art electronic sound system. Great. An injured general?

The car’s interior dome light was bright enough to show a man in the passenger seat, sure looked like an officer, with blood running down his face to soak into his uniform. That’s all they needed; some shiny brass hat got drunk in a bar and thumped by a local Okie who didn’t like his looks.

Well, crap, looked like Stevens was going out into the winter night after all. “Call Medical,” he ordered Billings. He holstered his pistol.

Fort Stephens, a high-tech installation and the newest jewel in the Army’s crown, wasn’t fully manned yet, but there was a working infirmary since the place was at least half-staffed with a couple thousand boots-on-the-ground. Not to mention asses-in-chairs . . .

Stevens thumbed the lock’s reader on his console. The reader matched his thumbprint to the one in the computer’s files, and the heavy electric steel door slid open noiselessly on its Delrin track.

The wind hit Stevens with an icy, take-your-breath-away slap as the door slid shut behind him. Damn! The antiram bumpers, squat chunks of rebarred concrete as big around as bridge supports, would stop a tank, but they didn’t offer any protection at all against the freezing breeze.

He went around the bumpers and toward the car.

As he got closer, he could see that the injured man had a star on each of his shoulders. Crap, it was a general.

“Don’t you die on my watch,” Stevens whispered under his breath.

He pulled the passenger door open. “Sir—?”

He found himself looking into the bore of a very large handgun. Muzzle big enough to stick your finger into it.

What the hell was this?

“Stay cool, Sarge,” the “general” said.

If these scumbags thought they were going to be breaking into the base by his gate, they were mistaken.

“You can’t open the door or the gate from out here,” he said to the “general.” “Especially on a ‘Code Alpha’ like this.”

He smiled. The outside of that armor-plated steel door didn’t have a knob; it was as smooth as a baby’s butt. The windows in the kiosk, including the door’s, were armor-tempered optical-grade Lexan, six centimeters thick, and nobody was shooting holes through that with small arms, not even the big honkin’ revolver this guy had pointed at him. Those windows would stop an elephant gun. You could plink at it with a .50 BMF and it would eat the slugs without shattering—for a while, at least.

The seven-ton steel gate and double-brace bars of more than two tons each would halt an eighteen-wheeler rolling at speed to a dead stop in its retreads.

Plus, Stevens was wearing a LOSIR ear-button with a mike pinned to the inside of his shirt collar, and unless Billings had gone completely deaf and stupid back in the kiosk, he’d hear this conversation and that “Code Alpha” and realize something was wrong.

As soon as he did, plus about forty-five seconds, a couple Hummers full of MPs armed to the teeth were gonna come roaring toward the gate, at which point Sergeant Theodore M. Stevens was gonna hit the dirt flat on his face so as not to get shot when the MPs lit up this car and these two losers. Code Alpha meant come shooting. Gonna be a most active war zone around here, and somebody was gonna get hurt.

The man smiled like he could read Stevens’s mind. “Have a look at your PFC in the kiosk, Sarge.”

Stevens frowned. He glanced back at the guard shack.

Billings was thumping the edge of his right hand—the one holding his side arm—into the comlink handheld with which he was supposed to be calling for Medical and MPs.

“I do believe your phone is, um . . . out of order,” the fake general said.

As Stevens watched, the man who had leaped out of the car took a couple quick steps to the kiosk door, and pulled the pin on some kind of grenade. He had what looked like a TV remote in his other hand, and he thumbed it.

What was he gonna do with that? It wouldn’t dent the kiosk wall, and it might scratch and fog the Lexan, but that was all it was gonna—

The kiosk door slid open a hand span and stopped. Billings dropped the comlink and swung his pistol up, but the driver shoved the grenade through the gap and moved to the side before Billings could fire.

The door slid shut again.

What the hell—?!

Billings saw the grenade, and he tried to get out through the other door—

There was a muffled whump! and the kiosk filled with green smoke.

Without thinking, Stevens reached for his side arm.

“Belay that, Sarge! It’s just puke gas. You behave, you’ll be telling the story to your buddies over beer tonight. But move crooked, and you bleed out right here and now. They don’t pay you enough, you know.”

Stevens nodded. “Yeah. I hear you.” He moved his hand away from his gun’s butt.

Twenty seconds later, the kiosk door opened. The night wind cleaned out the vestiges of the greenish smoke to reveal Billings on his knees, heaving his guts out, the partially digested remains of his most recent meal splashed all over the floor in front of him. Stevens hated emetic gas. It was worse than pepper spray, though not as bad as DG—diarrhea gas. Put that together with PG, the dreaded P-G-D-G double-ended spew combo? Oh, that was messy, messy. . . .

The driver ran into the kiosk, and used a cuff-strap and manacle on the still-vomiting Billings.