He was close, so close!
Wu had fixed the mechanical problem, had gained his extra few degrees of elevation, and was inputting the codes again, the excitement rising within him.
And then the codes were accepted and the terminal asked him if he wanted to launch, and he pressed the confirmation button, then hit the launch switch.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
He saw the rocket thrusters ignite, the force of the glorious, fiery explosion hitting the reinforced launch platform –
But then he felt something touching him, pushing him,
And then he was even closer to his beloved missile, in among the beautiful flames, the incredible force enveloping him until it was all he knew, all he would ever know.
And then it all went blank, and General Wu saw and felt nothing more.
Cole had got to the launch module just in time, had pushed the general over the guard railing into the downdraft of the rocket as it fired up, ready to set off into the atmosphere.
General Wu De had been incinerated immediately and – as Cole had hoped – the intrusion of a foreign body into the launch zone had caused an automatic abort of the missile launch.
Cole watched in pained horror for several moments as the rocket continued to flare, threatened to launch, and then relief flooded him as the fire went out, gases leaking into the atmosphere as the big missile settled back down onto its guide rails, completely inoperable.
Cole looked at the
as it sat there right in front of him, a missile with enough destructive force to lay waste to a city, wielded by a madman – a madman who now lay incinerated underneath his own weapon, destroyed by his own dreams.
And then the pain and exhaustion finally overcame Cole once and for all, and he collapsed, unconscious, to the ground below him.
One Week Later
Captain Samuel Meadows stood next to Admiral Charles Decker on the flag bridge of the USS
Gerald R. Ford
as it was towed, surely but surely, into White Beach Naval Base in Okinawa’s Nakagusuku Bay, wide grins spread across their faces.
The entire harbor area was saturated with people, not only the grateful citizens of Okinawa and mainland Japan, but also a whole contingent of ex-pat Americans, service personnel, and family members who had been flown in at the expense of the US government.
Flags were being waved, hands raised, voices calling to them in adulation and relief.
It was over; the whole terrible ordeal was over.
His engineers – though working flat out – had never been able to get the huge ship moving again under its own power, the damage from the
truly too extensive for such hopes to be realized.
But Meadows recognized that the thought of accomplishing it, the hope of being able to fight back, had contributed greatly to his crew’s continued sanity, and knew he’d done the right thing in giving those orders.
His country had come through in the end, just as he’d known it would – the Politburo had been rescued right out from under the nose of the military regime, and a combined US-Chinese commando task force had retaken the Zhongnonhai and tracked down and executed the hateful figure of General Wu.
It was an auspicious day as the
was finally dragged back to shore, but Meadows was all too aware that it was not all perfect. His ship had survived, but – in the end – three hundred and two of its crew had not.
It was a crushing blow for the United States Navy, and for Meadows personally.
But, he reminded himself, as the sound of applause from the docks threatened to overwhelm him, in the end America had won; and before he got too despondent, he knew he had to remember that.
America had won, and China was an ally once more.
Kang Xing watched with hooded eyes as Chang Wubei took to the podium in front of him, immensely pleased with the man’s recent transformation.
The man had come through recent events a true champion, just as Kang had hoped he would; the qualities Kang had perceived in the politician had finally shone through, under Kang’s gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – nurturing, until today they won the prize Kang had been after for so long.
Chang Wubei’s elevation to President of the People’s Republic of China.
General Wu De, for his part, had played his role in the proceedings beautifully – he had taken over the Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan exactly as planned, and had come within a whisker of overrunning Japan too.
It was a shame, Kang reflected, that he had not managed to do so before being killed; ideally, the invasion of Japan would have gone ahead while the Politburo was in exile, and then – when Wu had finally and inevitably been beaten – Chang could have inherited Japan upon his return to China as well as the Diaoyus and Taiwan.
As it was, China had increased her land, her resource base and her power, without any blame whatsoever. After all, it had been the unauthorized military government of the maniacal General Wu that had been responsible for those things, and not the Politburo or the Chinese people.
And if they were now the beneficiaries of Wu’s actions?
Well, then so be it.
There were demands in some quarters for the Diaoyus and Taiwan to be returned, to go back to the status quo, but Kang had advised Chang against it; why give them up when they didn’t have to? It wouldn’t make any sense at all.
He looked at his protégé, Chang Wubei, and felt enormously pleased with how things had gone.
But still, he would have liked Japan; it would have made his future plans even more achievable.
But, he reflected with a rare smile, you couldn’t have everything.
President Ellen Abrams looked on as guest of honor, ensconced within one of the Zhongnonhai’s magnificent chambers.
She was here for the ceremony that would see Chang Wubei, formerly the second Vice Premier, become the new President of the People’s Republic of China.
With the President, Vice President and the Premier all dead, there had only been First Vice Premier Liang Huanjia ranked higher within the old government, and he had lost the backing of the Politburo.
Chang, however, had been universally applauded for his performance during the crisis, and had received the full support of the Politburo, the Standing Committee, and – when news of his courage and influence leaked out through Chinese state television – the entire Communist Party too.
Abrams herself was pleased, having met the man; he was able and sincere, and a good, solid replacement for Tsang Feng.
Kang Xing, Minister for National Defense and the only general not to side with Wu, had done well out of the crisis too; he had been elevated to Wu’s old position as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission as reward for his loyalty.
The only fly in the ointment was Chang’s apparent reluctance to hand back the Senkaku Islands to Japan, and to allow Taiwan to regain its independence under Rai Po-ya.
It was too early for Abrams’ intelligence agencies to decide if he was truly serious, but there was every indication that – now that these territories were under Chinese control – Chang intended to keep them there.
But, Abrams had to admit, she could see his rationale – the money from the Senkakus/Diaoyus could help pay for the vast expenses of Wu’s military actions, and bringing Taiwan back under mainland Chinese control was a major tenet of policy for the People’s Republic; it wouldn’t play well for the bureaucracy
the people if Chang was to just hand them back.
But it was early days yet, and Abrams would have to wait and see what happened.
As President Chang Wubei – now Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China – took to the podium to address the gathered crowds, Ellen Abrams decided to look at the positive side of things.
The Mutual Defense Treaty was still in place, the USS
Gerald R. Ford
was finally safe, a major ground invasion had been avoided with Japan, and a nuclear revenge attack had been stopped in its tracks.
The higher generals of the recent military government had all been arrested and were going to be behind bars for a very long time, and General Wu himself was dead, his risk to his world ended forever.
Back home, things had worked out well too – although she still couldn’t admit the details, everyone knew that it had been covert US action that had saved the day, and Abrams herself had been widely praised for it; even those who had been angered by her previous silence understood the necessity for it.
And the threat of Vice President Clark Mason was gone now too; under the threat of that video, he was willing to do whatever Abrams wanted, her ardent supporter for the rest of her term in office.
The security of the Paradigm Group would have to be looked at, its links to Force One even better hidden, but that was something Bruce Vinson and Mark Cole could work out together.
She smiled inwardly as she thought of Cole; despite the odds, the man had come through again.
She had been to see him in the private clinic which had been looking after him, horrified by his injuries.
But he had shaken them off, reluctant to discuss them; in fact, he had been more concerned over the health of Chad Davis, who – although he had survived the helicopter crash back in the Taihang Mountains – had suffered severe injuries.
Cole had wanted nothing for himself though, except for some time off.
Abrams had agreed instantly, of course, although she had been somewhat surprised; she had never considered Cole as a man of leisure.
And as she listened to President Chang address the crowds, and the gathered world news media, she couldn’t help but wonder what Cole was going to do with his well-deserved vacation.
Mark Cole watched the dedication ceremony of the new Chinese government from the comfort of his own bed, back in his townhouse apartment in Woodland-Normanstone Terrace.
He had been in a private, very anonymous hospital for a few days as his various injuries were seen to, but had been released on his own recognizance earlier that day.
The surgeons had cleaned up his amateur circumcision with little problem; ironically, they had been quite complimentary about Zhou’s handiwork. Perhaps, Cole reflected, the man would become a surgeon in another life, now that his life on this earth had been deservedly expunged.
Despite his injuries, Cole had insisted on attending the memorial service in China for the men who had died in the helicopter crash; there had been seven fatalities, including the pilot.
But another five had survived, including – Cole was delighted to discover – Chad Davis.
However, the big Delta Force man had suffered severe burns in the crash and a cracked sternum, and would be out of action for quite a while. Cole knew it could never make up for it, but the Paradigm Group would reward him well for his troubles.
He had been to visit the man and – true to form – ‘Country’ had been in good spirits, even singing a couple of songs with his boss.
It was only after this that Cole had sought medical attention himself, and by the time he’d signed himself into the clinic, the medics were amazed he was still standing.
But now he was back at home, and the world was mercifully back to normal; which was to say it was still the same crazy old place it always was, but was no longer under the immediate threat of nuclear destruction.
As Cole settled back into the bed, he saw the face of Chang Wubei, recently elected to the highest position in China, the People’s Republic’s new Paramount Leader.
Reconstruction work had started on the Forbidden City, and President Abrams had agreed to help pay for the cost; after all, even though she could not publically admit it, it had been her people who had destroyed it in the first place.
Cole was pleased to discover that Liu Yingchau had been promoted to Major, and had received the Hero’s Medal, the Chinese equivalent of the Medal of Honor and that country’s highest military decoration; the man definitely deserved it.
The rest of the Force One team had received their citations and their financial rewards, and had gone back to their parent units with nobody any the wiser; unheralded and unappreciated except by those very few people who knew what they’d done, Cole chief among them. He for one would certainly never forget their contributions.
Jake Navarone had come to see him in the clinic and – out of sight of the nurses – they’d shared a couple of beers as they’d discussed the operation in an informal debrief.
He’d also been honored with a visit by President Abrams herself, along with Bruce Vinson of the Paradigm Group, and Force One’s unofficial chief-of-staff. After expressing their thanks, they had an interesting tale to tell him about the Vice President, a story which made him smile, but also highlighted the importance of security; he told Vinson they would have to get together when he was back at work to discuss how they could improve things, to hide their covert operations even more effectively. Force One had proved its effectiveness yet again, and the last thing Cole wanted was for it to be discovered and shut down.
So the world was settling down, it seemed – except for the fact that Chang Wubei seemed determined to keep hold of the Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan, despite international pressure to hand them back, and Cole couldn’t help but wonder what that could mean for the future.
But for Cole personally, he was due a break, and – as he lay down on his luxurious mattress, the comfort almost unbearable after the exertions of the past weeks – he knew exactly what he was going to do with it.
He had saved Tokyo from destruction, which meant that he had also saved Aoki Michiko.
And so his daughter was still alive, somewhere in Japan.
He closed his eyes, determined that he was going to find her.
And eventually, the pain in his body draining away, Mark Cole drifted off into a dream-filled sleep, occupied only by the haunting images of a daughter he had never known.
. . . but Mark Cole will return in his in his fourth adventure, out early 2015!