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The Mirror Maze
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     In Tel Aviv it was almost 8:00 P.M, corresponding to 1:00 in the afternoon East Coast American time. At an address used as a safe house by the Israeli intelligence service, Stephanie sat in a room with a balcony looking out over the city, watching the inauguration ceremony coming in live from Washington. With her were two women from the Israeli secret service who had been detailed to watch over her while she was in the country.
     No reason had yet been given for asking her to remain behind after McCormick and the rest of the party returned home. She could only assume it had something to do with Mel or Dave Fenner. However, she had seen and heard nothing of Mel since her middle-of-the-night departure from Kemmel's house in Cairo a week previously, and there had been no response from Dave to the message she had left. God alone knew what Mel had gotten himself mixed up in. So until one or the other of them chose to make his presence known, there was nothing she could do. She was totally a pawn of events outside her control. For once, trying to guess what Eva would have done was no use at all.
     On the screen, the crowd was filling the square in front of the Capitol steps. Henry Newell and Theo McCormick were visible to one side of the group congregating at the top, the Chief Justice had appeared, ready to receive the oaths of office, and it seemed that every congress person, state official, and party worker from the United States, must have gathered to see the culmination of their efforts.
     She realized that the two Israeli women had been talking while she was thinking. "What do you think, Eva?" one of them asked her. "Will this amendment that everyone has been talking about make so much difference to the worlds?"
     "It's not the amendment that matters," Stephanie replied. "That's just words on paper.
     What matters is that it expresses the collective mood of a people. That's what you're seeing there. And yes, I think that will make a difference."
     On the screen, a hush had come over the crowd, and Newell stepped forward and raised his hand. The shot switched to closeup, and for a moment the expression on one man's face embodied the will of a nation passing from adolescence to maturity, a nation that was taking charge of itself.
     "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability . . ."
     At that precise moment, the Ilyushin airliner that had been flying on a southerly bearing twenty miles off the Maryland coast completed a starboard turn which brought its nose around to point at Washington, one hundred thirty miles westward. A pair of long doors extending for half the length of the fuselage hinged open on its underside, and moments later a black cigar-shaped object fell away, its stub wings already extending. A finger of flame leaped from its tail as the motor ignited, accelerating the missile up to supersonic speed in a few seconds. As the first streaked away, a second dropped from the aircraft's belly, fired, and followed.
     Within ten seconds the computers of the North Eastern Air Defense Region had extracted the anomaly from the datastreams pouring in from surveillance radars on the east coast and were sounding alarms and flashing warnings on display screens to alert the operators. Alerts also went out automatically to USAF Defense Command Headquarters, the Operations Room of the recently created Strategic Defense Command, and the Situation Room in the Pentagon.
     One of the air-defense radar crew was the first to realize what was happening. "Holy Christ, they're missiles!" He began flipping switches frantically. "Get me CP on that! Alert Stingray, Code Red." Activity erupted on all sides, bells clanging, bodies jerking upright in chairs. Somebody sent a styrofoam coffee cup skidding across the floor. "Bravo Two, we have gremlins, range two-zero, bearing one-two-one decimal three, altitude thirty thousand descending, speed increasing at nine-zero-zero on course two-six-five decimal one. . . . Update on five, Charlie Two. . . . Wilco, go to Red on Dagger. . . . Holy shit! . . ."
     "Bring Angels three-two-nine to alert and advise."
     "We have confirmation on Zebra Seven, Stingray."
     "Give me an ETT on Washington."
     The Duty Officer Commanding appeared, white-faced. "What's happening?"
     "Missiles, two of 'em—going straight for Washington."
     "How far off target?"
     "If it is Washington, less than six minutes."
     General Goryanin listened incredulously to what Colonel Chelenko was saying as his voice babbled over the satellite link from Damascus. "They're certain that the aircraft is a camouflaged launch platform. That's what those missiles were for. If it left here at ten o' clock this morning on the same schedule as the regular flight, it would be right off the North American coast by now. That means Washington has to be the target."
     Goryanin blinked and shook his head. "Brazhnikov has joined up with the Israelis? The lawyer is there? I don't—"
     "There isn't time to go into all that. The inauguration is taking place there at this moment. Don't you see what it means? An act of war is about to be committed against the United States, and we have been set up to appear responsible." Goryanin started numbly at the wall of the map room, where Chelenko's call had found him. "Do something . . . now!" Chelenko's voice pleaded.
     Goryanin shook himself back to life. The correct thing would be to refer the situation to Kordorosky, his direct superior. But he rejected the thought even as it formed in his mind. Kordorosky would be happy to sit back and let it happen. Even though it might get him shot, Goryanin would have to find another way. He picked up another phone, on which another officer was standing by for orders on a different line.
     "Get me the defense minister, Marshal Androliev," he instructed. "Interrupt him at once, whatever he's doing. Tell him that it's his nephew and we have a major emergency."
     In the Situation Room beneath the Pentagon, General Sommerfield stood in an agony of suspense, watching the plots and data updates on the screens. Some aides were dashing around in a frenzy of activity to keep their minds occupied; others had given up and just stood petrified. It had all happened too quickly. The course of the missiles was now unmistakably straight at the Capitol.
     "Two minutes, twenty-seven seconds," someone announced. "Gremlin One has crossed the shore." That was the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Forty-two miles away from the target.
     An Air Force general turned from where he had been talking frantically at another screen. "Not a chance. We'll never get anything off the ground, never mind within range."
     "Gremlin Two is over the Bay," someone called. The displays changed to an updated plot.
     "General Knowle is back now, Sir. Screen Six."
     Sommerfield strode back to the console he had been at before, which was communicating with the Strategic Defense Command. That was the only hope left now.
     "XDS-7 is primed and tracking," Knowle reported as Sommerfield appeared. "Target illumination radars have found it. I've assumed command. We've gone to Red-Red." Sommerfield felt a little easier, although his brow was glistening. Thank God they had enough birds up now to ensure permanent cover.
     "Two minutes," a voice called out.
     Sommerfield could hear other voices coming from the screen, in the background behind Knowle.
     "Fire inhibit is lifted. Go ahead."
     "Uplink holding steady. Switch to seven-five-zero."
     "Seven-five-zero, roger."
     "On synch, yellow five. Beam power is good."
     "Negative function! We're losing it! . . . The beam's down."
     "Bolero, what's going on there for Christ's sake?" Sommerfield shouted
     "SYS Three has aborted. We're dead here."
     Knowle shouted orders off screen, then turned back, looking dazed. "We can't fire the laser. It's not responding. The satellite isn't responding!"
     "It's the same thing as happened with Six in November," a voice said somewhere behind him. "It's spooking out the same way, all over again."
     There had been no time for Marshal Androliev to leave his office in the Kremlin. He contacted General Roskovin, commander of the Soviet Orbital Defense Force, directly via the communications screen by his desk.
     "We have a channel to OCC now," Roskovin reported from the headquarters in Riga. "Satellite OBF-3 is within range. But active intervention would require Defense Council authorization."
     "Dammit, general, I an the defense minister! There isn't time to call a meeting. The responsibility is mine alone. Do you understand? This is an emergency. You obey my orders."
     "I need confirmation from at least one other member. We have alerted the General Secretary. He is on his way to your office now, with Comrade Kordorosky."
     Androliev's heart sank. "There isn't time. I order it."
     Roskovin shook his head. "Washington isn't worth my neck. Sorry."
     "I—"
     The door burst open and Kordorosky strode in, looking tight-lipped and even whiter than usual. Vladimir Petrakhov, General Secretary of the Party, was close behind him. He came over to Androliev's desk and pivoted the screen around to face him. "Very well, we are in control here now," he told Roskovin in Riga. "What's the situation?"
     Roskovin consulted briefly with someone off screen. "We now have long-range optical and infrared contact. Two missiles have been launched."
     "Remain standing by."
     Kordorosky looked at Androliev with contempt. "What do you think you were trying to do, you old fool? This is the best thing that could have happened for us."
     Androliev slumped down in his chair and lifted a cigarette to his lips with a shaking hand.
     Sirens were sounding in the city. Newell stood bewildered at the top of the Capitol steps, cut off in mid sentence as the noise around him swelled. Police radios were squawking and babbling everywhere. Some people started running blindly, impelled by some animal instinct that sensed disaster. Then the entire crowd broke up into massive, turbulent eddies. McCormick came forward, looking bemused. "What's happening?"
     "How do I know?"
     An assistant rushed out of the doors behind the steps, clearly panicking. "It's an attack! An aircraft off the coast has fired missiles! They're coming right at us!"
     The defense secretary was at the center of a flurry of figures in suits and uniforms. "What's happening with the satellites?"
     Someone proffered a phone. "Situation Room on the line now."
     A man with a bald head ran past, clutching his brow. "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die. It's real. I'm gonna die. . . ."
     "They've got a bead on 'em with the lasers. The lasers have got 'em. It'll be okay."
     Newell wiped his brow. There was nothing to be said. Running around and demanding answers would only get in the way now.
     The defense secretary looked up from the handset that he was holding. His face had gone pale. "Something's wrong," he choked. "The satellite has just gone dead up there."
     In the darkness of the Syrian desert, the American and the Israeli and Russian troops sat in a tense, silent huddle around the cave, where Zvi and Brazhnikov were crouched by the radio pack. They had already been in contact with the Russians' commander in Damascus, even before Mel realized what the aircraft, the missiles, the date, and the time of day added up to. There hadn't been time to get through to the authorities in Washington via the Israelis. And besides, after the experience with Oberwald, nobody knew who in the top levels of the U.S. defense hierarchy could be trusted. And even if they did, it wouldn't have done any good; Brett had already told them that the U.S. space defense satellites could be neutralized.
     So they had done the only thing they could and let Brazhnikov try to alert someone through his command chain—for as Mel had pointed out, what was happening was not more in the Soviet interest than the American.
     The radio crackled suddenly. "Hydro calling Snowball."
     Brazhnikov leaned closer and acknowledged. A brief exchange ensued. Then Brazhnikov spoke in Russian to Zvi.
     "Damascus is through to the Kremlin via the KGB, but there's a lot of confusion there," Zvi said. "General Secretary Petrakhov is involved now. . . ." Then the voice came from the radio again, sounding sharp and excited. Mel looked at Zvi questioningly. He could see his horrified expression even in the darkness.
     "We were too late," Zvi told him. "The missiles have been fired."
     It was all over. Sommerfield could only stand looking numbly at the displays. All activity in the Situation Room ceased as one by one the operators at the rows of consoles rose slowly to their feet. One man had broken down and been taken out by MP guards. The hush was broken only by one operator reciting mechanically, "Twenty-one miles, sixty seconds to target. . . . Nineteen miles, fifty-five seconds. . . ."
     Marshal Androliev flicked at the lighter several times. It was empty. He tossed it back on the desk and opened the top drawer to search for matches. Somebody at the door was calling for the General Secretary. Petrakhov went over, and a moment later disappeared outside. The screen was still turned away, but Androliev could hear Roskovin in Riga: "Targeting radars are tracking and locked. What do you want us to do?"
     Kordorosky was still standing a few feet away, momentarily looking in the direction of the door and out of the viewing angle from the screen. The situation would last for a second or two at most. Androliev looked down again at the Luger automatic lying in the drawer. He lifted it out and raised it above the edge of the desk. Kordorosky caught the movement from the corner of his eye and turned his head. His eyes just had time to widen before the bullet hit dead center between them.
     Androliev got up and moved around the desk to face the screen. "We have reached a unanimous decision," he told Roskovin in Riga. "Shoot the missiles down."
     "Yes, Sir."
     Androliev pivoted the screen back to point at the empty desk, at the same time turning down its sound control so nothing else would be heard. A second later the General Secretary rushed back in, officers and guards behind him. "What was that? It sounded like—" He froze as he saw the body of Kordorosky sprawled on the floor. The others came to a confused halt behind.
     The old marshal sat back against the desk and covered them with the automatic. "We just wait for thirty seconds, gentlemen," he told them. "After that, you may do with me as you wish."
     "Seventeen miles to target, fifty . . ." The voice faltered and stopped. Silence persisted for a few seconds.
     "What?" someone else demanded.
     "I don't know. It's disappeared from the display. . . . What's happening with the second?"
     Sommerfield stared at the big screen disbelievingly. Around him, the statues were coming back to life.
     "That one's gone too. I don't understand it."
     "They've both just . . . vanished."
     "That's impossible."
     Sommerfield looked at the screen still showing Knowle at Strategic Defense Command. "You didn't do that?"
     Knowle shook his head, equally bemused. "Negative. The bird's still dead."
     "Get an ADS update and confirmation, Sommerfield told an aide.
     "I already have, Sir. Radar has lost both missiles."
     "Evaluation?"
     "None available."
     "Does anyone know what's going on? Sommerfield demanded, stepping back and asking the room in general. Nobody did.
     Then a telephone rang. An Air Force major took the call, listened for a few seconds, and then looked up. "Sector Five has visual confirmation," he informed them all. "Both missiles exploded in flight east of the city. First report puts it at somewhere near the Patuxent River."
     Minutes later, four F-15 interceptors formed up around the Ilyushin, radioed orders for it to land, and escorted it down to Langley Air Force Basle, Virginia.
 
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