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Phoenix Sub Zero



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He held his breath and waited, finally hearing more than seeing the ground. He pulled his chute-control cables from the harness straps all the way down to his knees, and the parasail wing-shaped canopy inclined upward into the air flow, tilting up like an airliner flaring out over a runway.

The aero-braking worked, slowing Morris almost to a stop, neatly collapsing the canopy just as his combat boots hit the sand at walking speed. Morris stepped away from the deflating parachute and let it flap in the wind on the sand. He released the tabs on his harness, unzipped and took off his flying squirrel suit, and dumped his oxygen mask on the pile, rolled it all up into a ball, and buried it in the sand. Surrounding him were a hundred seals doing the same. Morris reached into his vest and pulled out his night-vision goggles and strapped them on. The desert came to life around him, men scurrying for the equipment crates, pulling out weapons and ammunition and pieces of the desert patrol vehicles.

Morris walked the sand, watching his men opening the crates, a few men sent to find crates that had landed a few hundred feet outside the drop zone. The contents of the crates were snapped together quickly, the tightly packed crate contents becoming space frame vehicles, with aluminum tubes for the framing, collapsed tires with inflation bottles, unfolding seats made of lightweight and compact foam, the heaviest components the engines, the transmissions, and the machine guns. Not believing in keeping his hands clean, Morris bent to help one heaving group of men tilt an engine assembly up to accept the front portion of one of the DPV frames. The men worked frantically, bolting high-horsepower engines together in the dark, the clumsy night-vision goggles the only aid to sight. Morris stepped back and allowed himself a moment of pride. With a pit crew like this, any Indianapolis racer would be a winner. The moment ended too soon as Morris checked his watch. It had been eight minutes since his boots had hit the desert. Too damned long.

Morris found Black Bart Bartholomay and went over the assault plan one last time while an ensign and a chief assembled their DPV-4. Once completed, the lightweight and queer-looking vehicle resembled the bastard son of a moon buggy and a Baha race car. It held four seals, driver included, had oversized dune tires, two frame-mounted machine guns, and a 300 horsepower supercharged small-block Chevy. The desert burst into loud burbling noises, the drivers gunning their engines. Morris strapped on his motorcycle-style helmet, got the radio boom microphone adjusted, and loaded the clip into his MAC-10 machine gun, the weapon heavy and satisfying in his hand. Bart returned from a tour of their assembly area and reported that all DPVS were running and there had been no injuries on the insertion.

The mission was still on track, if a few minutes late.

Morris checked the DPVS geosatellite navigation system, the navsat receiver no bigger than a loaf of bread, and looked at the map. Heading one seven seven led straight into the main bunker. He climbed into the DPV with Bart driving, the ensign on the rear gun, the chief next to him. He tapped Bart’s thigh, and Bart cautiously accelerated, avoiding getting stuck in the sand, and the hightech dune buggy sped off to the south, two dozen buggies following behind it in a roaring race.


“How will we deliver the Scorpions to Washington? And how soon can we do it?” General Sihoud stared at the electronic chart on the wall and thought about the destiny of the Islamic people, how the Westerners had only gained a foothold on UIF soil so that their eventual withdrawal from Muslim territory would be that much more significant for the UIF.

After all, fourteen centuries ago Mohammed had himself been driven from Mecca to Medina — the holy exile, the hegira, during which Mohammed founded Islam. The Prophet had then fought his way back to Mecca in an astonishing and triumphant battle, winning an immortal glory. By the time he was forty Mohammed and Islam had taken over the Arab world.

Now Sihoud had been given the Scorpion, just as Mohammed had received supernatural power from the archangel Gabriel, and now the war would be won. The infidels would sneak away and hide, and Mohammed al-Sihoud would triumph. Sihoud truly believed that.

Chapter 2
Thursday, 26 December


Sihoud yawned. It was many hours past the time he had hoped to sleep, and there was more to do before dawn than stare at the machine’s screens. He had a war to win, troops to command, armies to move, but first he must deal with his Iranian chief of staff, the worrying technocrat Rakish Ahmed. Still, he reminded himself, Ahmed was more than worth his pay — he had delivered the Scorpion weapon. For that Sihoud could stand to indulge his worldly fears; he just wished Ahmed could comprehend that they were destined to prevail. He believed that.

Colonel Ahmed frowned in low conversation with one of the officers at the tactical command console, who occasionally put one finger in the air and talked into a secure radio-telephone.

Sihoud could see Ahmed’s expression grow darker. Finally he turned from the console and faced Sihoud, a pained look on his face.

“Sir, we need to leave, now. I believe an attack is imminent on this command center.” Ahmed had been trained by the Iranian Air Force to state the conclusion first, the supporting evidence last. It was a habit that irritated Sihoud, but he waited. “An antiaircraft station, the north post, reported radar contact on a large airborne blip. The radar was a height-finding unit, and reported the plane climbed up from zero to fourteen kilometers very rapidly, then dived back down again. At first we didn’t believe it, but the south station just confirmed, they saw the same thing. This correlates to the lost jetliner, sir. It has to be paratroopers.” Ahmed paused to grab a radio handset and barked orders into it, something about a Firestar fighter and a Kawasaki U-10 truck at the south utility tunnel exit.

Sihoud calmly shook his head. There were no paratroopers and there would be no withdrawal through the utility tunnel.

Ahmed had too little faith.

The night before, Sihoud had had a dream, a dream of conquest. Angels from heaven had fought beside him, one telling him he would rule all of Asia and all of Africa, that the infidels were to be cast into the seas. No part of the dream portended any threat. Sihoud felt it down to the marrow of his bones. The only thing that mattered at the moment was deploying and firing the Scorpion plutonium missiles with their cargo of death, the wages of sin, delivered by Allah’s agent on earth. General Sihoud.

Ahmed still stood there with the radio handset plugged into one ear. “We shot missiles at the aircraft. General. None of them hit — the plane was too far away. General, I have a U-10 truck waiting for us and a Firestar at the airstrip—”

“Stop. If the plane was so far away that our antiaircraft missiles could not reach it, it must have been very distant. How far away was it?”

“About a hundred kilometers, perhaps slightly more.”

“A hundred kilometers. And these paratroopers will have a long walk ahead of them. Did your radars show any parachutes?”

“No, sir, but—”

“Colonel, come with me.”

Sihoud led Ahmed to a partitioned corner of the room and snapped his fingers. An attendant brought two cups of steaming tea. Sihoud sipped the brew and stared through the steam at Ahmed, his eyes now showing some compassion.

When he spoke his resonant voice was quiet, even gentle.

“Colonel Ahmed, Rakish, my friend, you are thinking about your wife and son, are you not?”

“I’ll always think about them, but that has nothing to do with this bunker being threatened.”

“I wonder. Rakish. I wonder whether losing your family and your home has made you think you might lose me too. I assure you that will never happen.”

As Sihoud talked Ahmed’s mind wandered … 200 meters down a utility-access tunnel there was a U-10 truck waiting for him and Sihoud, and four kilometers further south a Firestar fighter was being pulled from a hangar, fueled, and warmed up, all on Ahmed’s orders. As chief of staff he was also responsible for Sihoud’s security, and that part of the job was almost the toughest. Because Sihoud was fearless to the point of foolhardiness. The man really did believe he was invulnerable— — a dangerous self-deception. And if Sihoud did not want to be protected, there was little to be done until the worst happened. Perhaps then he would listen.

Ahmed decided to keep the U-10 truck and the Firestar waiting and ready. While Sihoud continued to talk Ahmed pulled out a machine pistol in a leather holster and strapped it on over his fatigues. The heavy feeling of the weapon made him feel better, and for a moment he was able to relax. Now Sihoud was asking about the Scorpions.

“The Scorpions, Colonel. How will we deliver them and how soon?”

Ahmed had been waiting for the question. He knew Sihoud would not like the answer but then neither did he.

“Delivery by aircraft will not be possible. The air force fighters are fully occupied here and in any case their range is too limited to cross the Atlantic. Commercial airliners are no good— — their parts have all been used to keep our squadrons of fighters in the air, and the mechanics are all at the fronts. I have considered hijacking an airplane and landing it where we could load the missiles but that would betray the operation. The transport of the missiles must be kept absolutely secret.”

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