TC61

Diane Sawyer of CBS News had been a member of Richard Nixon’s White House staff and had also served President Ford during the transition before accepting her current position as a television news reporter. Ford thought very well of her, and CBS had hired Sawyer precisely for this warm relationship with the President and her other contacts in the Administration. But flying down to tropical Antigua with a small support team, Sawyer found that this island of a hundred thousand people just thirty miles south of Barbuda was as close as any member of the media could get to the combat, no matter who they were or how impressive their credentials might be.

Barbuda was well over the horizon except for an indistinct sliver of green that was the top of the largely uninhabited and wooded central plateau but a great deal of black smoke rose into the air over the island from many fires, and this the Ford administration could not hide. Through extreme telephoto lenses much footage had been shot of military helicopters and aircraft flying in front of those columns of smoke, firing rockets and streams of rounds with tracers.

Sawyer seemed resigned to accepting this state of affairs until a woman approached her and said, “Miss Sawyer, my name is Dory, and I am the third-ranking member of the Church of End Dome. What would you say if I offered to get you and any two other people of your choosing to the combat zone on Barbuda?”

“A round trip, I presume?”

Dory smiled. “If all goes well. Naturally there are risks, this being a war and all, but you’re a journalist so you already know the drill.”

“How do you propose to carry out this offer, Miss Dory?”

“With a stealth-mode variant of a standard Church of End Dome aircraft, but I have to warn you right now that when you first see it you will think this is a terrible practical joke.”

“And let me guess: you expect to be paid for this little trip, right?”

“Money? Heavens no, Miss Sawyer. The only thing that I ask is that you keep the passengers down to three, including yourself, and that you do not use lights when you shoot your footage. The, ah, aircraft has lots of windows and you will greatly improve our chances of making this a round-trip if you stick to night-vision photography.”

“Your offer is intriguing, Miss Dory. I don’t seem to have much choice. But I will need an hour or two to arrange for the equipment.”

“Make it three hours, Miss Sawyer. We shall need to go in under cover of darkness.”

When Sawyer saw the flying saucer she grew very angry and almost called the whole thing off, thinking it to be an elaborate joke. Her outburst kicked off the filmed portion of the reporting. Then she remembered how Dory had warned her reaction would be precisely that.

Dory: I assure you, Miss Sawyer, we will be over Barbuda twenty minutes after you and your crew get on board.

Sawyer: Helicopter, huh? So why did you go with a saucer?

Dory: Sometimes we gotta fly in daylight. Somebody sees us, even take a picture, nobody’s going to believe it. They’ll think they tossed a hubcap in the air and snapped that. But for this war, no, we only come out at night.

For a “helicopter” Sawyer found the ride to be remarkably smooth and quiet, and this pinged her natural curiosity as a reporter.

Sawyer: What do you use for power?

Dory: It’s a bit complicated and technical, but we have a thing called a macro that allows us to convert matter, such as the air over the roof of the aircraft, into a form that no longer interacts with light, only with gravity. The molecules of air are turned into sub-atomic particles that slip away under the surface of the Earth. This creates a partial vacuum over the saucer, and that in turn creates lift. You see the result.

Sawyer: Okay, but that doesn’t really answer my question. Where does this macro you speak of get its power?

Dory: It’s simple, really, it gets it from what it eats. We can do a selective conversion, just make the electrons go away from some of the air, leave the nuclei intact. That makes a charge gradient, positive and negative, right? Then you have a flow of electricity.

They were flying over the waters around Barbuda now. Sawyer’s cameraman captured a shot of one of the Navy’s ten amphibious assault carriers assigned to Operation Caribbean Rage. This shot was in the monotone shades of green of a low-light camera setup. A helicopter could be seen landing on the deck.

Sawyer: How many of these flying saucers do you have?

Dory: A very, very large number of them, Mr. Sawyer, and most of them are in the air over Barbuda tonight. In fact, if the Navy could see how many of us were aloft right now, they wouldn’t dare to bring the Eisenhower anywhere near the island.

Sawyer: What about the Richard M. Nixon?

Dory: The Eisenhower wouldn’t dare to come near the island because of what already happened to the Nixon.

Sawyer: The President said the Nixon was being relieved by the Eisenhower.

Dory: I suppose that’s true in a manner of speaking. The Nixon has been sent to Davy Jones’ Locker so guess they needed to bring in the Ike to take over.

Sawyer: You’re saying the USS Richard Nixon has been sunk? An American aircraft carrier is gone?

Dory: That’s exactly what I’m saying. Four nights ago. The President didn’t think it was important enough to mention it to you in your interview, did he? But that’s a billion dollars down the toilet and five thousand American sailors. Those five thousand folks with mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends who will be waiting for their loved ones to come home and they’re never coming home. That’s something President can’t cover up forever. Now he wants to bring in the Ike and make the butcher’s bill ten thousand sailors, and for what? For an island too rocky to plant anything bigger than a garden with two thousand people too poor to buy the clothes they sew in their little huts converted to sweatshops.

Dory did a pass over the beaches of Barbuda, showing the collapsed trenches in the sand where one of three successive attempts by Marines to make an amphibious assault on the island had failed miserably. The town of Codrington, with about a thousand people, had no building still standing larger than a hovel, the result of one of the most intense air campaigns in American history.

Dory: The word on the street is that the Navy is about to make a fourth attempt somewhere, maybe on the east side of the island. Exactly where the hammer will fall is a secret, but it doesn’t matter, the whole island is so rotten with passages it makes the tunnel rats of North Korea look like amateurs. Macros responsible once again, I’m afraid. From the chatter we’re hearing on the radio the Marines haven’t pulled out a completely intact body yet. Lots of little pieces though. This is going to be like Iwo Jima…squared.

Sawyer: Perhaps the President will bring in an army airborne division and bypass the beach.

Dory: Well, as you already know, Mr. Sawyer the President found another job for those fellas guarding the White House. We hear some SEALs are sneaking around somewhere on Barbuda, though, and a few Marines are here and there dropped by helicopter but we’re keeping them busy too. Unfortunately for the US side Hunky is here as well. So we hear the phrase Charlie Foxtrot passed around on the radio a lot.

The flying saucer landed in the jungle of the Barbuda plateau near the outskirts of Codrington. Dory asked Sawyer, her cameraman, and her producer to help her cover the aircraft with large banana leaves, then she led them through the jungle to the nearest house. From an upstairs balcony Sawyer and his crew set up their camera to overlook the carnage going on in the town below. This was more coverage than anyone had managed to achieve over the entire operation. Sawyer’s producer set up a satellite dish to upload what he had already recorded on the flight over and to establish a live feed for Sawyer to do a special report.

Downstairs Hunky arrived at the house and embraced Dory passionately, for they hadn’t been together since the extraction at Indian Creek. “The second carrier is almost here but we’re on it.”

“There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the amount of pain Ford is willing to take, does there?”

“You got Sawyer upstairs?”

“Yep, and she’s going out live. More pain for President Jerry.”

“I expect they’ll be able to zero in on this house from the images she broadcasts. We’ll have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

“Check, I’ll wait for the first commercial break and let Sawyer know.”

“Love ya, babe.”

“Too.”

The response came in about an hour and it was just Marines, nothing serious like Rangers or SEALs. Sawyer went with Dory then, walking down a narrow underground macro-carved tunnel with her cameraman and producer, and they set up operations in the empty house next door and aimed their cameras at the first house through a window. The Marines didn’t bother with this second house because they already cleared it.

Soon a Marine knocked on the front door of the first house and it was answered by Hunky, who threw out something in Spanish. The Marine told her to gather what she needed and evacuate the house immediately. “No choice. This is mandatory.”

In reply Hunky slammed the door shut and threw the matrix of deadbolts with a single snick.

Six defenders of the house, through gun slits on the top floor, dropped two Marines in the yard. Automatic gunfire was returned, pocking every side of the house and shattering glass. Tear gas canisters merely bounced back out the windows, having hit plate steel behind deceptively lit Venetian blinds.

Covered by a hail of suppressing fire, more Marines in body armor made their way to the front door with a battering ram and began trying to bash their way in through a thick metal door deceptively painted like oak and reinforced with carbon steel jambs. They worked until they were exhausted and put nary a dent in the door.

The Marine lieutenant in charge of this platoon pulled his boys back. Hunky didn’t give the Marines any time to get set up with whatever heavy response they were contemplating next. She led a surprise attack out of the house right away. And since the members of the Church of End Dome could never truly die, they were the most fierce warriors who ever lived. Additionally, it was attractive young women who were pouring out of the house, which made the men of the Marine platoon instinctively hesitate to fight them.

The primary weapons of the Marines were a nasty piece of business the size and shape of any normal rifle, but they were railguns, a portable mass-driver powered by a gigantic charge circulating in a room-temperature superconductor loop. It fired needles at a muzzle velocity of four thousand feet per second. These needles expanded when they hit and became ugly tearing pieces of hot shrapnel. One electrically-ejected needle didn’t usually kill, but a single magazine held two thousand of them.

Aurelia bought it right away in a thirty-shot burst from Corporal Castle. Then Private Johnson picked off Jo, a nineteen year-old still in training. By this time, a volley of knives went up from the Church of End Dome side.

These were not ordinary knives. They had an arming switch. Immediately after leaving the throwers hand a sensor detected free fall and ignited a small solid rocket in the handle. An infrared detector in the hilt zoomed in on body heat. It was basically a model rocket with a bayonet fixed to it, deliberately blunted to prevent the thing from passing clean through the victim. And they were much nastier than the Marine gauss rifles. After burying itself in the victim, the rocket motor burned right up inside the magnesium alloy blade, starting an unquenchable metal fire right inside the person’s body. Only after the entire blade burned would the fire go out. Water only made it burn hotter, and the flame ripped it’s required oxygen from the guy’s own body tissues.

One blade closed in on Castle in tightening spirals and another was distracted from its intended target to follow the more attractive engine heat of the first one. Two class Delta fires for Castle then. The pain was vast, like being scraped under the foot of a giant with blue-hot soles. He could only scream “God help me!” and his prayers were answered, because the twin burning blades finished him with great haste.

Hunky was the one who flung that first blade. Her next blade went out and found Johnson.

Sondra was a two-fisted knife thrower. The left hand took out Sergeant Hervey, the right hand blade sailed out toward a cocksure rookie. Hervey saw the deadly thing snaking toward him and tried to shoot it down, but all he achieved was a burst of stray needles tearing into Sondra.

As she died, Sondra’s final memories were uploaded to the Swarm via a neutrino link. Lieutenant Atkins died under a more regular blade from Olivia. His actual cause of death, she later reported, was six quarts of missing blood due to her famous “Filipina Haircut” which was an incision that started at one ear and crossed to the other one under the chin. A few men who had wavered in retreat now joined the others in fleeing for their lives.

The surviving defenders, Hunky and Olivia, ran in different directions through nearby alleys and the backyards of neighboring houses, making good their escape. The entire incident of United States Marines being driven off by young women wearing short tunics and kneeboots was captured by Diane Sawyer and her camera crew.